Half Broke Horses
Author: Jeannette Walls
Genre: A True-Life Novel
Synopsis: Lily Casey Smith, this novel's feisty Texas protagonist, is a frontier teacher, a rancher, a rodeo rider, a poker player, and bootlegger. In Half Broke Horses, she survives droughts, tornados, floods, poverty, and whatever else fate can throw against her. Based on author Jeannette Walls's grandmother, Lily is a plausible character because she has a voice that synchronizes with her history. This novel lives up to the still gathering acclaim for Walls's novel The Glass Castle.
Why did I pick it up?: Years ago, I read The Glass Castle for a book club and I'd been meaning to pick up Half Broke Horses since I heard it came out. Yes, I've been meaning to read this for four years. I'm glad I got around to it.
Favorite Lines: "I hadn't been paying much attention to things like the sunrise, but that old sun had been coming up anyway. It didn't really care how I felt, it was going to rise and set regardless of whether I noticed it, and if I was going to enjoy it, that was up to me."
My Review: Similar to The Paris Wife, in that the story is a fictionalization of true events. Though in my opinion it's much better done in Half Broke Horses. Perhaps novelizing your own Grandmother's life is easier, plus I wasn't rooting for someone else the whole time. If you've read The Glass Castle, I think most people have, then you will most likely enjoy this story. There are little nuggets of references that foreshadow events that take place in Jeannette's memoir.
A Half Broke Horse, is a horse that has been caught and partially trained and then released back into the wild and its own natural devices. Lily who helped her father train horses before leaving home, is familiar with these horses who when caught again no enough to submit to a rider but also know they might escape again. Throughout the story she encounters people who are likewise only "half broke" and will never quite fit into society as a result. Anyone who has read The Glass Castle would see how Jeannette's parents are just like half broke horses.
I found the details about life in the South Western United States in the early 1900's to be fascinating. The lack of paved streets, indoor plumbing, electricity and everything I've never lived without seemed trying and it was insane to realize it really wasn't that long ago that the story is taking place. Lily lived in a rural part of Texas and late in a rural part of Arizona. People out in the more densely populated East, had electricity and running water much sooner. And just like I loved learning that when America was discovered the rest of the world was highly suspicious of the tomato, which they'd never seen before. They called it the witch's apple and said it was poisonous. Crazy, right? Well maybe it's just amusing to me. Similar to the mistrust of new foods, when Indoor plumbing was spreading across the country a lot of people were skeptical and grossed out. In Half Broke Horses people ask, "Isn't that unsanitary?" and "Who would do that in the house?"
There's no rush to finish the book, no great mystery waiting to be revealed., and yet the story held my interest. However, if you're the sort of reader who needs a strong reason to turn the page this probably isn't for you.
Recommendation: Fans of memoirs and anyone interested in settlements in America should check this out.
For Next Week: The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman