Monday, December 28, 2009

Half Broke Horses

I sometimes fret over reading books in their proper sequence. For instance, I discovered Kent Haruff's Eventide before I realized it followed his earlier novel Plainsong. Going back to the first book made me want to re-read the second. Likewise, I started the Harry Potter books--before Harry was cool, I might add--but my reading was interrupted partway into the third book. I was tempted to read the first and second again before I began listening to Jim Dale's wonderful narration via audiobooks.

Sometimes, though, a book appears out of time sequence. The term "prequel" has found its way into the language, though I suspect it is used more in the film world than in publishing. Just such a work is Jeannette Walls' new book she calls a "real-life novel," Half Broke Horses. I had loved her memoir Glass Castle when I first read it with my book club and again when it was chosen for our reading and English classes at the college.

This new book is the story of Walls' maternal grandmother Lilly. She first intended to write her mother Rosemary's story, but her mother insisted that she was missing the best story. Her choice to write in fist person in her grandmother's voice gives the book its charm. I found the details of Lilly's life as captivating as those of Walls' own life, though not as horrific. Her ability to present the most unnerving events and details unflinchingly reminds me in a way of Frank McCourt's memoirs.

Reading the book as a separate entity from Glass Castle, I found it stood on its own, and I was often able to ignore the inevitable turn Rosemary's life would take, but as I reached the end of the book where Rex Walls enters the picture, I felt like someone in a movie audience, wanting to scream "Don't!" at the screen.

Having heard Jeannette Walls reading at Appalachian State in 2008, I am still amazed at her positive attitude, her ability to describe her own heartbreaking childhood with the voice of a true survivor. Although this novel is her grandmother's story, I see it as a tribute to her love for her mother who "did the best she could."

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