Death Comes for the Archbishop

by Willa Cather

I have an intense dislike of the Catholic Church. I find the evils it has perpetrated on the world at large to outweigh the good. I also know it to be a far stronger, sinister, and pernicious cabal than even the mafia. So you can guess from the title of this Willa Cather book that I start out reading with disinterest to say the least. Making matters worse would be my ignorance—in the face of my distaste for it—of the structure & hierarchy within Catholicism. This means that when various characters are referred to by their rank or title, I am admittedly lost. What the heck is the difference between a bishop, an archbishop, and a vicar anyway? And what the F is a bishopric? (Either: A.Don't answer that, or B.Insert your own dirty joke here.) I didn't know before, I don't know now, and I am electing to continue not caring. (One good thing about being a philistine when it comes to organized religion is that while I read, I don't even know—per the title—which character is slated to die! Lack of membership has its privileges, and they're pretty cool.)

There. I've said it. (And, yes, of course I admit that midnight mass can be beautiful.)

Death Comes for the Archbishop is historical fiction, for those of you who go in for that sort of thing. In the pages of this short novel you will meet both Kit Carson and Father Serra. The story concerns the settling of the West (New Mexico, primarily) via Catholic missionaries come from Europe in the mid 1800s. Some sections of the book read anachronistically in their rendering of Indians and Mexicans as—insert your own diminutive here—(e.g., animalistic, childlike, etc.)...yet other sections are rather enlightened! And it should be noted that the narrative does nothing to alter my negative feelings toward Catholicism, what with depictions of the church begging from the poorest (taking advantage, knowing that people who have nothing will give everything) and then simply manipulating others.

Maybe Classic Bitch can't win here, because I'm also not a fan of the desert, which is precisely where the vast majority of this book takes place! *sigh* But I will say that in keeping with some of those passages that treat native peoples both honestly and lovingly, there are some passages that paint the desiccated American Southwest as a thing of beauty! Who knew? Willa Cather is a good writer, and Death Comes for the Archbishop is a good book. It is an empathic telling of a life that feels genuine. I'm just being a bitch here because I don't like what the main characters stand for and I don't like the setting. On top of that, one of my all-time favorite books is My Antonia—also by Willa Cather—and it ain't even on the list.