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Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel Paperback – September 7, 2010
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Top Customer Reviews
In this book, Jeannette wants to write about her mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, but ends up writing about her mother's mother, Lily Casey Smith, who herself was quite a character. Her maternal grandmother was born in 1901 in the Southwest. Like her descendents such as Jeannette and Rosemary, she defied conventional living. She became a school teacher during World War I in Arizona and living in Chicago where she worked as a servant and went to school.
Jeannette writes lovingly about her grandmother and brings her character to life. Lily's life was no picnic and her early years on the ranch with her book-smart father, mother, and siblings-Buster and Helen provide an interesting portrait of life in the American Southwest before World War I.
It's interesting since Jeannette Walls last surprised us with her memoirs to note that she is no longer a social or gossip columnist in New York City's Upper West Side. She and her husband have traded their city lives for a country life in Northern Virginia complete with their own set of beloved horses.
This is a different writing style from Walls' memoir, where it was a thoughtful prose designed to get the reader to read more into a childhood that was hard and filled with parents who couldn't stay put in one place nor could they raise their children. The children raised themselves. In this book, Lily was written to be a tough woman who had faced desperate times ... such as hiding bootleg liquor underneath her son's crib. She did what she could to make ends meet. Even her marriage to Big Jim was practical though I sense through Walls' writing that there was love and mutual respect between the two. Lily is the example of feminism in its best ... she pulled no punches into doing anything. She didn't shy away from speaking her mind even though it did cost her job twice.
Walls has a talent where people and their distant stories just come to life. For awhile there, I was so interested in this novel that I kept forgetting that parts of it is made up since Walls admitted that she never talked with her grandmother so she was filling in the blanks. Lily Casey Smith comes alive in this book and what a wonderful tribute to a woman who is part of Jeannette Walls' heritage. What a rich heritage that is too.
"Half Broke Horses" with Lily, its heroine, a real life pioneer woman, could be the next "I Remember Mama" or "A Tree Grows in Brooklyn". But I'm sure Walls and all other modern writers would rather die than be compared to either of those, which would surely be regarded by modern critics as overly sentimental.
So, what we're left with is a book that is a great yarn, with fascinating details about the American Southwest at the turn of the century, told by an immensely talented and skilled writer, that lacks one thing: the pulse of human feeling. There's plenty of sweat, and that makes the characters very admirable, but no blood, and that makes them a little dry and depressing. Events that would scar any normal human heart happen without even drawing a drop of blood or tears or sighs.
And yet the events of her life show that Lily did many things that required courage, strength, love, and dedication, and that heartbreak touched her life more than once. But not only does the author not dwell upon Lily's feelings and the emotions that must have kept her going or threatened to sink her, they are never mentioned. The result is the book's tone becomes like listening to someone suffering from low level depression drone on about their life. Arid, dry, a downer.
The author seems to admire Lily's lack of feeling, as if the best human beings can aspire to is to ignore their emotions. And that may be how Lily got through her daunting and difficult life.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Jeanette Walls is one of the best authors I have read. I fell for her in "Glass Houses". I have been a fan since then.Published 2 days ago by Russell Cole
Excellent story. Precursor to The Glass Castle which I loved. Recommend this book to actually read first and then the Glass Castle.Published 9 days ago by Mary Ann Baldari
Smooth, simple prose that makes it easy to follow the story. Very enjoyable and incredible retelling of a rugged, pragmatic, and headstrong cowgirl and her daring and eventful -... Read morePublished 14 days ago by Amazon Customer