Sunday, December 26, 2010

Book review: Half Broke Horses by Jeanette Walls

Jeanette Walls wrote the fantastic but also tragic memoir The Glass Castle (I guess I never reviewed it here on the blog but it is an A+++ book), and this book, Half Broke Horses is her follow-up.  It is not a memoir in the usual sense, because it is about her grandmother, and to some degree her mother, but she didn't have all the facts about her grandmother's colorful and adventurous life.  But she had some, so she wrote a 'true-life novel' where she filled in what could have happened between the things she knew and had (photos, letters, etc.).  Her grandmother was independent, wild, and not the typical southwestern girl - she helped her Dad break in wild horses at a young age and became a school teacher in remote, rural villages in desert Arizona as a very young girl.  Half Broke Horses is different than The Glass Castle, less immediate, less heart-breaking, but still a great book where you get the feel for everyday life, tragedy, and adventure out in Texas, Arizona, and Chicago in the early 1900s.  I loved it, mostly for the personal style of writing in direct and short sentences about life as it is - not to intellectual and reflective, but straight-forward, funny, and unhappy, just as it can be, and because she can describe characters as real people, not simplified caricatures. Lovely book, well worth reading

A sample (when her grandmother has decided to learn how to fly an airplane):

    "A fellow came out of a shack behind the plane and sauntered up to the Flivver. He had a windburned face, a cigarette dangling from his mouth, and a pair of aviator goggles pushed up on his forehead. He rested his elbows on Jim's open window and said. "Looking to learn her?"
   I leaned across the gearbox. "Not him," I said. "Me."
  "Whoa," Goggles said. "Ain't never taught a woman before." He looked at Jim. "Think the little lady's up to it?"
   "Don't you 'little lady' me," I said. "I break horses. I brand steers. I run a ranch with a couple dozen crazy cowboys on it, and I can beat them all in poker.  I'll be damned if some nincompoop is going to stand there and tell me that I don't have what it takes to fly that dinky heap of tin."

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