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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Book Review: The Hearts of Horses by Molly Gloss

Well it took me the better part of three weeks to finish this novel. I saw this book while at the bookstore to pick up my copy of The Fire In Fiction by Donald Maass. Naturally, any book with “horses” in the title grabs my attention. But I am also wary because a lot of times the word “horse” or “horses” in a title turns out to be a cheat and has little to do with horses at all. Even the recent movie, “Appaloosa” fell into that category (I hadn’t read Parker’s book so didn’t know what it was about).

So, skepticism firmly in hand, I went to the library to see if they had a copy. And they did have a copy checked in over in the large print section. What was the verdict? Like the film Eight Below, there was too much time spent on humans and not enough on the animals. But what time was spent on the horses was quality stuff.

However – this book was rather enjoyable to read. It was also rather strange. I hate to not finish a book once I start it, but I was sorely tempted to set this one down a number of times. But I persisted, mainly because I kept wondering what the point of the story was (and to be honest, having finished it, I’m still not sure). 8-)

But this book has a certain charm all its own. Definitely not a read for everyone – you attention deficit folks – forget it. But it would be an enjoyable read for horse people, people who remember or heard stories of our history (in this case the time around World War I), and people who still enjoy reading the books of the 19th and early 20th century when authors (and readers) were allowed a good ramble.

It is laboriously slow at many points, but that’s also part of the charm of the whole book. The slowness of the writing fits with the times – people caught in the midst of a crisis, but instead of flaking out, it is filled with characters who quietly dug in and did what they had to do, all the while faced with trials and troubles that had nothing to do with the war.

You become enmeshed in the time and place, they are so well drawn in Gloss’s writing. When I finished the book tonight and set it down, I was almost startled that it wasn’t really 1917. You also come to care a great deal for the characters, including the awkward and plodding lead character whose innocence and straightforwardness throughout the book plant you firmly on her side.

And to be honest, I have a fondness for the book because it’s almost a rebellious turning up of the nose at all the “rules” that are heaped upon writers by the truckload. Gloss is very fond of tell vs. show. She’s a head-hopper extraordinaire. She doesn’t start with a dead body or other shocking graphic depiction on page one. She doesn’t beat you over the head with the romantic element of the story. She uses an omniscient POV which includes telling things that were happening in years before the story and quite a few years after. All things that are refreshingly contrary to the rules of writing.

I mean what does it matter if we get an insight into the heroine at 50, even though she was 20 during the events of nearly all the book?

Whatever else may be said of this book, I found it filled with characters of honest emotion, and a real and vivid setting that set me right in the midst of Elwah County right with the characters. I also enjoyed the fact that no matter what a character was going through, no matter how plainly their emotions showed, it was done with reserve – a reserve that was very comforting and that I wish was more prevalent in this age. These characters are not people you’d find spilling their guts on Dr Phil.

If you’re interested in horses, in history, and the lives of regular people trying to survive life, this book is for you. If you want to read a book whose story is not choked out by a preponderance of rules, this book is for you.

I’m very glad I stuck it out and finished the whole thing.

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