Saturday, January 30, 2010

HALF BROKE HORSES by Jeannette Walls (2009)

Because I was enthralled with Walls' memoir THE GLASS CASTLE, I couldn't wait to read this "true novel" about her grandmother Lily Casey. Although the cover has one of Dorothea Lange's famous Depression-era photos taken for the Farm Security Administration setting the tone, the inside sections have actual photos of Lily and her relatives including her hardworking husband Jim, her Hollywood-dreamer sister Helen and her daughter Rosemary (Walls' mother who so memorably opens her memoir rummaging through a NYC dumpster).

Lily is certainly a character worthy of the tale that her granddaughter pens for her. This bildungsroman stretches from Lily's Texan upbringing on a ranch where she learned to break the horses of the title to the two-bit towns she served in as a schoolteacher (including a remote settlement where when she educated the Mormon girls in her care about the wider world she was run out of town by the patriarch), to the dizzying excitement of being a flapper in Chicago, to the massive ranch where she and her husband raised their two children and she takes flying lessons with the hope of becoming a bush pilot to bring a much-needed income to support her family through more tough times.

In the Epilogue the story loops around to focus on Rosemary and Rex and their loose ideas about raising their own children and the certain difficult times ahead for them all. Lily's voice is resolute, however: "No way in hell were Rex and Rosemary cutting me out of the action when it came to my own grandchildren. I had a few things to teach those kids, and there wasn't a soul alive who could stop me."

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