This morning I read a short story by Willa Cather, called "Peter". It's one of her earliest stories, but it carries some of the dark realism of her best novels like "My Antonia" and "O Pioneers!" It's the story of a family that emigrated from 'Bohemia' in the 1880's, and especially of the father who was a concert violinist back in the old country. Now his life is filled with misery -- the bleak landscape of Nebraska, the lack of music, and the meanness of his oldest son. His misery is tenderly described by Cather, ending with his suicide in the sod barn, with his beloved violin in his arms.
Later in the day, I read another early Cather story, "Lou, the Prophet" - a touching tale about a simple, hard-working Dane, transplanted to the wilds of Nebraska, whose solitary corn crop was failing because of drought, and who, driven my a strange madness, became a 'prophet' like the Bible sages. It's a poignant story in its stark plainness. I can see why Cather admired her contemporary short story writer, Sarah Orne Jewett. They both wrote the way a clean pane of glass works -- simply and effortlessly.