Half Broke Horses by Jeannette Walls
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This was our May book club selection, and while I won't be able to attend the discussion I still wanted to read the book. I enjoyed it quite a bit, as Lily Casey Smith reminds me quite a bit of my grandmother ... a tough lady who puts up with no guff, teaches with an iron will, and has opinions you will know about. My grandma is also a survivor like Lily, she'll do what needs done to get it done. "There was a big difference between needing things and wanting things -- though a lot of people had trouble telling the two apart -- and at the ranch, I could see, we'd have pretty much everything we'd need." (pg 134)
Lily's life lessons begin early helping her father break horses. I was particularly interested that she was "home schooled" for a large part of her education with her father working on lessons in the afternoon with her ... then she was expected to teach her brother and sister.
The disconnect between her father's love of the past and her love of the future was an interesting comparison. "Two of Dad's biggest concerns in his letters were industrialization and mechanization, which he felt were destroying the human soul." (p. 16) "What Dad didn't understand was that no matter how much he hated or feared the future, it was coming and there was only one way to deal with it: by climbing aboard." (pg 68)
Lily went on to become an educator because of her love for the "Eureka!" moments. "I could see why Archimedes got all excited. There was nothing finer than the feeling that came rushing through you when it clicked and you suddenly understood something that had puzzled you." (p. 34) She wanted to give that feeling to her students. She wanted them to see and to enjoy the seeing. It took her years and years until she was finally certified to teach, but she taught and worked at being certified because she loved it so much.
She had many roles: horse-breaker, maid, teacher and bus driver, ranch mother, mother, pilot, wife, bootlegger, mechanic, and pilot. She played poker, raced horses, and ran tough. One man did her wrong, she never forgot it, and trusted with difficulty.
She is upset by the cowboys who half-break wild horses and turn them into something neither wild horse nor useful horse. "The problem with half-broke horses like these was that no one took the time to train them ... Not properly broken, they were always scared and hated humans. A lot of times cowboys released them once the roundup was over, but by then they'd lost some of the instincts that kept them alive out in the desert." (p 49) That recurring theme describing people comes up again and again throughout the book and rather than being intrusive and tacked on, actually seems appropriate in each place.
I enjoyed Walls' writing style of crisp, clean language that evoked pictures and emotion. I'm not a huge fan of the writing little "gotcha" essays in general, but it seemed to work pretty well here with a life in story and not a true plot per se.
I'd like to read Glass Castle sometime in the not-too-distant future.
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