Walls, Jeannette. Half Broke Horses. New York: Scribner, 2009.
This is the story of Lily Casey. She is an Arizona cowgirl/teacher/wife/ that finds herself "penned up" in Phoenix. This book is part biography and part fiction written by her granddaughter, Jeannette Walls. As such, it follows the chronology of Lily's birth until the marriage of her daughter, Rosemary (which might be the metaphorical death of Lily).
I enjoyed how Walls merged the real Lily Casey Smith with the fictional account because I couldn't tell what might not be true. I also liked the generation separation that Walls shows between Lily, her mother and Lily's daughter, Rosemary (later spelled Rose Mary since it "made for a prettier signature" (Walls 229) .
I believed in Walls' characters. She describes them and puts them in realistic (I think) situations for the time. The believability was a little stretched with Lily traveling four weeks across New Mexico by herself, but then again, it could have happened. I imagine Lily to be quite the tough woman, and she had to be. She literally lives in a man's world. Instead of feeling sorry for herself, she enjoys life. She makes things happen. She is a survivalist. She is also practical, "hope for the best and plan for the worst" (Walls 257). Some members of my book club, however, found her to be selfish and immature. Perhaps.
Late in the book, Rosemary meets Rex. Lily says, "No better way to read a man's character than to watch him play poker" (Walls 254). She is almost as good reading people as she is reading horses. After meeting Rex, she tells Rosemary, "you'll never have any security with him" (Walls 257). I think this is prophecy for the next story The Glass Castle (which I've not read yet) which actually was written first, about Rosemary.
If nothing else, Lily is adventurous. She is always learning (flying a plane, earning her degree, picking up and moving to a new place) and tries to applies her lessons upon her daughter. Of course, much of this backfires.
I found myself underlining and marking passages that I felt were good descriptions of life. Early in the book, we learn from Lily's dad that "horses were never wrong" (Walls 7) and "God deals us different hands How we play 'em is up to us" (Walls 15). This might be why Lily can read a man's character through poker as mentioned earlier. Lily admires people that "never felt sorry for [themselves]" (Walls 11). She tries to instill into her daughter the valuable lesson that, "life's too short to worry what other people think of you" (Walls 198).
I was amused by her teaching experiences. She learned early in her career that "kids were like horses...get their respect from the outset" (Walls 92). She taught in places that no one else would. She got hired and fired and hired again. (I'm glad that I don't share that experience with her). She didn't like teaching in Phoenix because of all the "paperwork for the bureaucracy" (Walls 229). I can imagine what she would say about today's paperwork.
I feel like I've lived on an Arizona ranch for a few days. I want to capture that cowgirl spirit that Walls encompasses in her grandmother's story. If only I knew the stories of my grandmother's early life as well. I think there would be some similarities. I enjoyed traveling to the past through this book. It's worth the read. Giddy up!