Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel

Jeannette Walls
Jeannette Walls's The Glass Castle was "nothing short of spectacular" (Entertainment Weekly). Now she brings us the story of her grandmother -- told in a voice so authentic and compelling that the book is destined to become an instant classic. "Those old cows knew trouble was coming before we did." So begins the story of Lily Casey Smith, in Jeannette Walls's magnificent, true-life novel based on her no-nonsense, resourceful, hard working, and spectacularly compelling grandmother. By age six, Lily was helping her father break horses. At fifteen, she left home to teach in a frontier town -- riding five hundred miles on her pony, all alone, to get to her job. She learned to drive a car ("I loved cars even more than I loved horses. They didn't need to be fed if they weren't working, and they didn't leave big piles of manure all over the place") and fly a plane, and, with her husband, ran a vast ranch in Arizona. She raised two children, one of whom is Jeannette's memorable mother, Rosemary Smith Walls, unforgettably portrayed in The Glass Castle. Lily survived tornadoes, droughts, floods, the Great Depression, and the most heartbreaking personal tragedy. She bristled at prejudice of all kinds -- against women, Native Americans, and anyone else who didn't fit the mold. Half Broke Horses is Laura Ingalls Wilder for adults, as riveting and dramatic as Isak Dinesen's Out of Africa or Beryl Markham's West with the Night. It will transfix readers everywhere.

Reviews

Reviewed: 2013-08-07
I was a little worried by the slow start that this book wouldn't measure up to Walls previous book, The Glass Castle, which was a memoir to remember. Half Broke Horses picked up the pace a quarter of the way in and I enjoyed not only the short chapters, but the characters, time and the story Walls was trying to relate to us.
It's unusual in the fact that she writes it first person as her grandmother would have. It works even though there are a few awkward spots. It took me a chapter or two to realize that Rosemary was Walls mother, from The Glass Castle, and it provides insight on who she was and why she raised her children in such a haphazard and carefree way.
The women in the family, from Lily Casey (Smith) to Rosemary Smith Walls are strong, fearless, outspoken women. The story is set partly during the depression and you get a strong sense of the desperation of the times though the family is very resourceful. Freedom is what is important to this family.
I marked a couple of paragraphs or quotes that are remarkable:
"When people kill themselves, they think they are ending the pain, but all they are doing is passing it on to those they leave behind."
"My father used to tell the story about how, for centuries, the Havasu men got up in the morning, spent the day hunting and fishing, came home, played with their children, and lay down with their woman at night. They thought life was pretty good, but then the white man came along and said, 'I have a better idea.'"
"...a blizzard like that would have been a call to acton, forcing us to run around collecting firewood, bringing in the horses, and carting hay to the range. ...Living in the city, all we did was turn up the radiator and listen to the hiss and clank of the pipes."
"Levi's we didn't wash at all. They shrank too much, and it weakened the threads. So we wore them and wore them until they were shiny with mud, manure, tallow, cattle slobber, bacon fat, axle grease, and hoof oil, and them we wore them some more. Eventually, the Levi's reached a point of grime saturation where they couldn't get any dirtier, where they had the feel of oilskin and had become not just waterproof but briar-proof, and that was when you knew you had really broken them in. When Levi's reached that degree of conditioning, they were sort of like smoke-cured ham or aged bourbon, and you couldn't pay a cowboy to let you wash his."
I was a little worried by the slow start that this book wouldn't measure up to Walls previous book, The Glass Castle, which was a memoir to remember. Half Broke Horses picked up the pace a quarter of the way in and I enjoyed not only the short chapters, but the characters, time and the story Walls was trying to relate to us.
It's unusual in the fact that she writes it first person as her grandmother would have. It works even though there are a few awkward spots. It took me a chapter or two to realize that Rosemary was Walls mother, from The Glass Castle, and it provides insight on who she was and why she raised her children in such a haphazard and carefree way.
The women in the family, from Lily Casey (Smith) to Rosemary Smith Walls are strong, fearless, outspoken women. The story is set partly during the depression and you get a strong sense of the desperation of the times though the family is very resourceful. Freedom is what is important to this family.
I marked a couple of paragraphs or quotes that are remarkable:
"When people kill themselves, they think they are ending the pain, but all they are doing is passing it on to those they leave behind."
"My father used to tell the story about how, for centuries, the Havasu men got up in the morning, spent the day hunting and fishing, came home, played with their children, and lay down with their woman at night. They thought life was pretty good, but then the white man came along and said, 'I have a better idea.'"
"...a blizzard like that would have been a call to acton, forcing us to run around collecting firewood, bringing in the horses, and carting hay to the range. ...Living in the city, all we did was turn up the radiator and listen to the hiss and clank of the pipes."
"Levi's we didn't wash at all. They shrank too much, and it weakened the threads. So we wore them and wore them until they were shiny with mud, manure, tallow, cattle slobber, bacon fat, axle grease, and hoof oil, and them we wore them some more. Eventually, the Levi's reached a point of grime saturation where they couldn't get any dirtier, where they had the feel of oilskin and had become not just waterproof but briar-proof, and that was when you knew you had really broken them in. When Levi's reached that degree of conditioning, they were sort of like smoke-cured ham or aged bourbon, and you couldn't pay a cowboy to let you wash his."
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