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A gentle story with a load of twists
on December 12, 2016
Review of Lady Joe, by Mark Saha
If ever there was a story that ought to be titled, "What could possibly go wrong?", this is it. Almost-ne'er-do-well Lee Estes manages to get dumped from champion cutting mare Lady Joe on a ride in the California foothills just before she's to be sold to a rich Texas lawyer for an astronomical price. When Lee climbs to his feet and finds her gone, he has to come up with a plan to hide his carelessness from his judgmental boss. He enlists a reluctant sidekick, good-hearted tag-along Jim Harrison, to set up what one chapter calls a "three-horse monte" to deliver the money and cover his sins. This sweet tale is both comic and heart-gripping, with each chapter punctuated with OMG moments as the guys twist and turn to extricate themselves from mess after mess.
Neither of the women in the story are as well fleshed out as Jim and Lee (or for that matter, as are the three horses involved). At one point, Jim's wife Francine has to go along with a part of the scheme, and I had to suspend a bit of disbelief to buy that she would be so agreeable. Later, I learned why she was willing to indulge her husband, but at the time I had to let go of my skepticism to move on.
Among the perks for me was an introduction to the cutting-horse world, which I've only seen occasionally on television. The development of connections between riders and horses and the ballet of the cutting itself are described with an understated lyricism that grants full credit to these horses that Saha so clearly understands and loves. The book ends with a gentle disquisition on horses and the people who make a place for them in an increasingly indifferent world. This book is almost short enough to be read in one sitting on a vacation day. So find a sunny spot and a comfortable chair and drop the reins for the ride!