Monday, May 26, 2008

Book Review: Winter Wheat

I can't imagine why, in all my years of high school, college, and graduate school as an English major, I had never heard of Mildred Walker. Her writing is entirely along the lines and quality of Willa Cather and Wallace Stegner--OK, maybe not quite as spectacular--but pretty darn close. So why isn't she included in American Lit anthologies/reading lists? Why aren't we teaching her when we study the American West or the impact of WWI and II? I have no idea. All I can say is that if I were teaching American Lit again, I would seriously consider including Winter Wheat on our reading list.

But back to the book. Winter Wheat tells the story of Ellen Webb, a young woman born and raised on a wheat farm in Montana, during a 2-year span of her life. Ellen has spent an idyllic childhood on the farm, loved by her parents and completely satisfied with ranch life. She is a hard worker on the farm but desires a college education. With a good crop, her parents are able to send her to college in Minnesota, where she quickly falls in love. As Ellen says, "I hadn't meant to fall in love so soon, but there's nothing you can do about it. It's like planning to seed in April and then having it come off so warm in March that the earth is ready."

Ellen's troubles begin when Gil comes to Montana for a visit, and Ellen begins to see her parents and herself in a whole new way. She is painfully aware of her mother's foreignness (she's from Russia) and her father's sickness, and she convinces herself that they are trapped in a loveless marriage.

The story is beautifully written. Ellen is a tremendously likable character. I loved her romanticism mixed with a healthy dose of sensibility. Mr. and Mrs. Webb are also extremely well-drawn, memorable characters., and Walker's descriptions of Montana are wonderful, as well. This is one of my favorite books so far in 2008.


wisteria said... now you've convinced me as well. I must put Winter Wheat on my ever growing TBR pile. I seriously hope I live a long life, or that books are allowed in heaven. I have not heard of this author and I am a media specialist. It's hard being perfect though isn't it?

You read my post from last week about Franklin. I was just curious, I did post a Sunday Salon blog for May 25th. Did you see it?
Also, nice to meet you.

ChefDruck said...

I like to do book reviews too, and your site is great. I have added it to my blog roll.

Lauren said...

I just read My Antonia last summer, and loved it. I'll have to add this one to my TBR list as well.

Love your reviews!

Laura said...

I read this book a few years and enjoyed it, too. You're the first person I've stumbled across who has also read it - great review!

Patsy Ramberg said...

I first read this book in high school. Our meager library had a copy! I loved it and remembr it as one of my favorites. I remember Ellen as trying hard to make sense of her world and to live a meaningful life. I want l go back and read it again.
I would like to know what else Mildred Walker wrote.