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Painted Horses Hardcover – August 5, 2014

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Editorial Reviews Review

An Amazon Best Book of the Month, August 2014: It’s tempting to dismiss Malcolm Brooks’s debut as the latest in a series of American epics treading on Cormac McCarthy territory: The Son, Fourth of July Creek, and The Kept come to mind as recent novels dealing with the darker realities of frontiers, both geographical and personal. Like The Son, Painted Horses positions itself at the moment the frontier era gives way to modernity: in mid-century Montana, a dam project threatens to flood a canyon historically inhabited by Native Americans, submerging thousands of years of Crow history under hundreds of feet of slack water. When the inexperienced Catherine Lemay is appointed to survey the canyon for cultural evidence that could thwart the dam-builders, she assumes one corner of a Faustian triangle with a scheming hydroelectric shill and the mysterious John H., a rugged, reticent horse whisperer who opens the secrets of the country to the young archaeologist. Tangled relationships, difficult decisions, and hard compromises ensue. Decades and continents are spanned, and history unfolds. Maybe we’ve read this before?

But dismissing Painted Horses for its Western tropes would ignore just how good this book is. Brooks's prose is stylistically bold, announcing his artistic aspirations from the opening sentence. His characters are carefully drawn, yet their intentions remain ambiguous enough to be authentically human. His Montana is vivid, wild, and broad, and it’s obvious that Brooks lives where he writes, and loves where he lives. Ultimately, Brooks accomplishes no small feat in this remarkable debut: a tale of literary ambition that lives comfortably inside its genre roots, but not by its conventions.--Jon Foro

From Booklist

Set in an American West of the 1950s but carrying vestiges of the nineteenth century, and with Indian artifacts and the ancestry of wild horses going back even earlier, much of this novel, like its milieu, has a timeless feel. Catherine Lemay is a young archaeologist hired to explore a Montana canyon slated for damming and destruction, although she may have been hired specifically to find nothing, no evidence of why some of the local Crow Indians oppose construction of the dam. She is aided by Miriam, a young Crow woman (whose centenarian great-grandmother connects back to the Greasy Grass and Custer), and assisted (or not) by local horsemen and townspeople with a variety of interests in the land’s future. Two of the horsemen, including the enigmatic John H, served together in the mounted cavalry in wartime Italy, and, though some readers will rightly find in Brooks’ themes suggestions of Jim Harrison or Cormac McCarthy, the lengthy wartime flashbacks nicely recall vintage Hemingway. The book loses some credibility as it develops more contemporary plot elements, but its vividly drawn atmosphere and strong characters will keep the reader engaged. --Mark Levine

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Grove Press; 1st edition (August 5, 2014)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802121640
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802121646
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (198 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #254,845 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

I was born near Philadelphia in 1970 but my parents headed west before a full year had passed, caught up in the classic American tradition of hitting the trail after a different destiny. I latched on to the trappings of that myth right off the bat--according to my mother, I stretched out the springs on two hobby-horses before I was three, galloping along in front of the stereo speakers to "Rocky Raccoon," or "Riders on the Storm," or whatever soundtrack she thought might fit.

I grew up mainly in Northern California in a fairly rural part of the Sierra foothills, a place fairly littered with the old artifacts of long-lost Indian tribes and the 1849 Gold Rush. My brothers and I used to find Czech trade beads on a property we rode horses on, and old prospecting implements and the remnants of mining camps everywhere. Forgotten stone chimneys, rusting pickaxes half-buried in the ground. Most kids' interest ran from indifferent to momentarily piqued, but I saw the stuff in my dreams, would spend hours in a 19th century graveyard just to wonder who these people were.

I read a lot from an early age and by junior high had diverse interests, from paperback Westerns to English mysteries to blockbuster historical novels. Then my eighth grade English teacher, Marcia Callenberger, gave me a novel that changed my life, because it made me want to be a writer. "Lonesome Dove" was unlike anything I'd ever read, a hilarious, character-driven epic that followed no formula but struck me in the heart like nothing before.

I knocked around the West in my early twenties, learning carpentry along the way to support myself and attempting college in fits and starts. I still read like crazy, discovering Hemingway and Fitzgerald, Cormac McCarthy and Michael Ondaatje, knowing I wanted to be a writer but not quite knowing what sort of writer I wanted to be, like a guitarist with a schizoid devotion to both Segovia and Angus Young. Thomas McGuane struck a chord with me because he was clearly connected to so many things I myself had a love for--horses and fly-fishing, bird shooting and the West and above all stylish writing.

I finally landed in Missoula, Montana in my mid-twenties, tackling an English degree in earnest and finding my way to literary parties and events through my then-girlfriend, a poet and MFA candidate. I hunted a lot and rode horses when I could, wrote a couple of novels I hated and began to publish essays and short stories in magazines, then landed a job as a writer and consultant for an outdoor television company. Eventually I wound up in front of the camera myself, hosting a hunting-oriented target competition called "The Shooters" and all the while concocting this novel in my head, this huge, sprawling book that would somehow connect the dots of everything I'd ever been consumed by, archaeology and the West, Basques and Indians and the Lascaux cave, hunting and horses and the inevitable pros and cons of progress.

Six years later, I named it "Painted Horses."

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 79 people found the following review helpful By B. Case TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on April 26, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
"Painted Horses," by Malcolm Brooks, is a stunning novel brimming with confident literary prose. It is hard to believe that this big bold masterful modern-day Western is the work of a debut novelist. It begins with an arresting sentence fragment: "London, even the smell of it." And then the author keeps breaking the rules and stretching the literary envelope. For me, the style was delightfully brazen. Best of all, it transported me intimately inside the narrative--I became emotionally part of the story. Everything felt real: the time, the place, the characters...especially the narrative.

It's one of those big sprawling stories that stretched across two continents and three decades. The novel contained lots of background stories in order to get the characterizations just right, yet the author managed expertly to focus all that detail on only what was necessary to support the love story at its core.

The key action takes place in the summer of 1956. The setting is a massive, 50-mile-long canyon in Montana's incredible badlands. A power company plans to build a dam across the canyon to generate hydroelectric power. The dam is controversial. Some locals look forward to the new jobs and modern lifestyle that the dam promises; others are disturbed about the potential loss of sacred ancient native sites. Before the power company can start work, they need to get an archeologist to examine the canyon to make sure the water behind the dam will not flood anything historically significant. The archeologist chosen for the assignment is Catherine Lamay, a 23-year-old graduate with no field experience whatsoever in Western archeology or ancient Native American artifacts. She has only a few weeks to complete her assignment. She's eager to begin and highly motivated to do a thorough job.
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41 of 47 people found the following review helpful By I Do the Speed Limit TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on May 27, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I wish I could leave my comment like that: Just those two words. So I don't disturb the mood it created in me.

But, I can't get away with that, can I? So, here I go: Trying to share it with you:

I love the way this author writes. He writes what his mind is thinking. He ignores proper punctuation and sentence structure if the thought demands it. Don't interpret this to mean that the book is hard to read. No, it is not. Definitely not. It took me a few pages to get into the flow of it, then my reading took off flying.

It's a great story about a young woman, recently out of a top college in the East and now into the workplace as an archaeologist for the Smithsonian. She is full of herself after returning from a coveted archaeological assignment in London. Now, she's out of her element and into the wild expanse of Montana. She walks naively into Power, with a capital P in more ways than one: Big money, big business, mean, controlling, dominant men without a speck of respect and no consciences.

Disillusionment follows--big time. Anger and frustration and a sense of futility almost break her. But she digs her heals in, hires on a young Indian girl to help her, and tries to find evidence that will prevent the building of a hydroelectric dam and the flooding of a sacred canyon.

It's also a great story about a man, somewhat older--and wiser--than the woman; he is one with the wild mustangs and the canyon. His life is not an easy one, and necessity and common sense have him breaking laws before he's out of his teens. He also lives to paint pictures of horses.

Her story; his story; the overlapping of their stories: That is this story, and it is a fine one.

You should not miss it.
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35 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Susannah St Clair Foxy Loxy VINE VOICE on May 8, 2014
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
The depth of this book truly amazes me. Emotional depth and historical depth. Malcolm Brooks must have spent a year on the historical background alone. I learned a bit about so many things. A close up of the second world war in Europe, a snippet about cave drawings over in Europe as well. Archaeology in general and the still quite wild west of the late 50's. All this mixed together with lyrical prose and incredible descriptions of the people and the land makes for a superbly engrossing new novel.
There are several strong characters that the author brings to life and one of them is the land on which the story is created. Montana.. the old west and the now west. It is mystical and brutal as are the people who inhabit it. Catherine Lemay as a very young archaeologist who is tapped by the Smithsonian to be part of River Basin Surveys to see if there is anything of historical value in a canyon that the power company wants to flood for a new dam. It doesn't take her long to realize that the Harris Power and Light wants her there, young and untested ,so they can manipulate her toward rubber stamping the project and then they can build their dam and make their money. They found out they picked the wrong woman.
There are two very strong male leads, John H. and Jack Allen. At first, the reader has to wonder who the love interest is going to be. One I took an instant dislike to, the other, I wasn't quite sure what he was, hero or a lost soul from a different time. The story weaves itself between the woman, these two men and the animals that live on seemingly desolate land. Finally Catherine gives her heart to one and comes close to losing her life because of something she finds of great importance.
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