Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss

I read this book because it was a book club selection for our local Book Club, "The Porch Page Turners". One of the ladies in the club likes westerns and we hadn't read a western in awhile. I picked this one because it was one of the few westerns the state had available in kit form (meaning that we receive multiple copies of the book) that would fit our schedule. And I must say I'm glad that I did, because I really liked this book.

I didn't know anything about the author, Molly Gloss, but after reading the book discovered a link to an NPR interview with her on Morning Edition, here. There is also an excerpt from the book so you can tell whether you might like to read it or not.

The book concerns a 19 year old big boned girl wearing chaps, named Martha Lessen, who in 1917 is looking for the cowboy way of life. She shows up at the ranch of George Bliss and he hires her, because many of his usual hands are off fighting the war. She sets up a circle of horses to train in this remote county in Oregon and sets about training them in her own way. In the process she helps a family save their horses when their wagon slides into a ravine, she gentles a horse for a man dying of cancer (his last gift to his young son), and clashes with a hired hand who is abusing horses. And always there is the lore about the gentling of horses, which I found fascinating. The scene of the young rancher's last lucid moment with his wife and son before he succumbs to cancer is tender, elegant, and sweet in the hands of such a superb writer...not the least bit maudlin...just right on target where our emotions are concerned.

Martha is painfully shy with people, but great with horses, especially in reading the body language of often panicked and wild animals. She is a female horse whisperer trying to make a go of it in a man's world. And therein lies the beauty in this book. Molly Gloss is a skilled western myth buster. In the western stories of L'Amour and Zane Grey you don't hear much about the women. In fact most of western literature does not give you much from the women's point of view. Molly does a wonderful job making you feel part of the circle of conversation with the women in the story and does a great job with the history of the country and how one corner of the west was changing at the time of her story. I found her characters well drawn, her dialogue pitch perfect, and I was moved in profound ways by her characterization of the people and especially the horses who are always at the mercy of the people who own them.

After reading up on the author, I understand she has written several books that feature tough, smart, independent women, that lyrical descriptions and unforgettable characters are common in her work, and that she has dry wit and heart. I know that I will read other books by her just as soon as I get a chance to. Maybe you should give her a try too.
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