My favorite quote about this book is from Amy Bloom, who said "Painted Horses has the hard thrill of the West when it was still a new world, the tenderness of first love, and the pain of knowledge." Set in the mid 1950s when America was flush with prosperity and saw an unbroken line of progress clear to the horizon, this debut novel makes that time and untamed landscape come alive.
Catherine Lemay, a former pianist, goes to Montana in the 1950s as a young archaeologist to survey a valley for signs of native habitation before the area is flooded by a hydroelectric project. Catherine fell in love with archaeology while digging at Roman sites in Britain as a student, but now in the ruggedly masculine West, she almost immediately butts heads with her assigned guide, Jack Allen. She also falls under the spell of John H., an artist and lover of horses, who leads a nomadic life in the badlands. Catherine's arduous search of the valley is contrasted for much of the novel with John H.'s harrowing life story. The author demonstrates a fascinating knowledge of horses, archaeology, the new West, and women.
This is a western novel that has beautiful descriptions of the landscape and a wonderful grasp of how we are shaped by the places we inhabit.