“Yes, Sangre de Cristo; but no matter how scarlet the sunset, those red hills never became vermilion, but a more and more intense rose-carnelian; not the colour of living blood, the Bishop had often reflected, but the colour of the dried blood of saints and martyrs preserved in old churches in Rome, which liquefies upon occasion.” (Death Comes for the Archbishop by Willa Cather)
If your ability to read attentively and carefully has been atrophied by too much fast-paced genre fiction (like mine has), reading the simply written story of two gentle catholic priests may be an unexpected challenge. Unlike so much fiction, Cather writes her story and makes no demands that the reader pay attention to it. Death Comes for the Archbishop presents no dramas, action scenes, or romantic entanglements to do the work of capturing your attention. Instead, the story is simply, indiscreetly set before you on the page, and it is up to you call upon your reserves of concentration in order to appreciate its beauty.
Told in a series of vignettes spanning half a century, Death Comes for the Archbishop explores friendship, longing for home, the politics of Catholicism, and the character of late 19th century New Mexico, all in the most gentle of prose. While all that Cather chooses to so unassumingly write is remarkable, this book will always be about New Mexico to me. Having lived in Santa Fe for years, I know the cathedral the Bishop spends his life building, the rose-carnelian of the mountains, and the purple flowering of May. I’ve never seen New Mexico in the exact era that Cather describes, but her writing has recolored my memories of the place.
Recommended Action: Buy – Borrow – TBR – Avoid
Ending: Ends with the title story
Further Reading: The gentle nature of Cather’s characters and prose remind me strongly of Trollope’s The Warden.