September 22, 2010

Half Broke Horses

This week I read Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls. She wrote The Glass Castle, the true story of her childhood and one of my favourite books. If you haven't read it yet, and you liked, for instance, Frank McCourt's Angela's Ashes, then get The Glass Castle.

Walls calls Half Broke Horses a "true life novel." This mixture of genres didn't work very well for me. The story is about her maternal grandmother Lily, who grew up and lived most of her life in the ranchlands of Arizona. She was a very strong, outspoken woman who packed a pistol which she didn't mind using, and was as comfortable in the classroom as playing poker or wrestling steers. Well, maybe not wrestling steers - I don't know if they did that. In spite of the whole book being about cattle ranching and the cowboy life, it's not a lifestyle that interests me much so I didn't really get it. And I didn't really get Lily, except as a girl. As a woman she never sprang to life for me - she made too many crazy moves for me to be able to relate to her. She lost job after job because of her rashness and rebelliousness. I felt sorry for her husband and yet the book implies that they got along well and he was patient with her.

Half Broke Horses really helped me understand Lily's daughter Rose Mary, Jeannette's mother, a fascinating figure in The Glass Castle. Half Broke Horses, through Lily's (fictional) first person narration, describes Rose Mary from her birth to her marriage and a very little bit beyond. Lily seems constantly (and inexplicably) surprised that her daughter turns out to be a bit of a hellion. Walls wrote Half Broke Horses from extensive interviews with her mother.

The book was well enough written that it held my interest, and it has a gorgeous cover, but there is something about it that didn't ring quite true for me - a letdown after the searing realism of The Glass Castle.