I’d call Molly Gloss’ The Hearts of Horses almost a sequel to Monte Walsh by Jack Schaefer, and I consider Monte Walsh one of the perfect novels. The writing is superb, in that run-on raconteur style that feels like the easy canter of a horse. It’s 1917, and young Martha Leeson leaves home to become an itinerant bronco buster, only she’s a horse whisperer instead and she doesn’t get that far from home, either.
This book works on so many levels, I hardly know where to begin. It’s a book about World War I at home, it’s a book about coming of age, it’s a book about the loss of the American west, it’s about the failed government program to settle the West with farmers, it’s about the American cowboy, only this time she’s a girl. The circle ride is a terrific device for telling not only Martha’s story but the stories of all the ranchers and farmers for whom she is breaking horses, not to mention a look through Gloss’s eyes at the loneliness and beauty of the western Oregon landscape.
Mostly, I think, this is a story about Martha, a young woman from an abusive home who is so lonely and unsocialized (for lack of a better word) that she literally doesn’t know what people mean when they speak to her. As she breaks the horses, so does the community gentle her into being one of their own.
This would be a terrific book club book.
And just for fun, here’s the trailer for the Tom Selleck film version of Monte Walsh. It’s pretty good.