Wednesday, April 6, 2011

HALF BROKE HORSES by Jeannette Walls

This novel is based on the life of the author's grandmother but lacks the shock value of her memoir, The Glass Castle, and I think that's a good thing. After a scrappy childhood in Texas, 15-year-old Lily Casey heads off alone on a month-long trek on her horse Patches to Arizona for a teaching job. Her teaching gigs end when teaching opportunities are offered to returning WWI vets. Lily's next stop is Chicago, where she receives more than the formal education she was seeking. A friend's accidental death and Lily's brief marriage to a bigamist are innocence-blasting events that will shape her adulthood. And Chicago is not the last place that she leaves because the memories are too painful. This book, though, is not a tragedy. It's the story of an indomitable woman making her own way and then raising a family in the Wild West. She wins at poker and horseback contests and wins our hearts as we root for her at every juncture, even as she starts selling bootleg liquor to supplement her family's dwindling resources, hiding the goods from the revenuers under her baby's crib. Since this is not strictly a biography, and the protagonist died while the author was a child, it's impossible to know which parts of this book are fiction, but I have to believe that the main events really happened. It's a ride worth taking, especially if you've read The Glass Castle. This book provides some insight into the background of the author's mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, who is a difficult child, with a warped sense of livestock welfare.

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