“Falling from Horses” by Molly Gloss
c.2014, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
$25.00 / $32.00 Canada
by TERRI SCHLICHENMEYER
Be careful what you wish for.
No doubt, you’ve been told that before. What you want and what you need are often two different things, and desires can be dangerous. The wrong wish acquired could lead to disaster. Or, as in the new novel “Falling from Horses” by Molly Gloss, it could also be a means of escape.
For Bud Frazer, Hollywood was almost a last-minute thought.
Oh, the notion to go there had fleetingly occurred to him a time or two while watching westerns at the local theatre. After awhile, he reasoned that if movie cowboys could get paid for riding, then so could he; riding was something he knew well. Winning second-prize rodeo money only sealed the idea.
It was 1938, and Bud’s parents worked on somebody else’s Oregon ranch, after having lost their own. Bud was eighteen, and Hollywood sounded good; he couldn’t bear to go with his folks, away from the land he considered home. There was just no point. After his sister died, there was nothing left to say.
And as the bus crossed into California from Oregon, Bud met Lily Shaw.
She wasn’t much to look at; she was older than Bud, but he decided he liked her anyhow. She was bold; said she was headed to Hollywood to be a screenwriter, and she seemed to know what she was talking about. Once they hit town, she even pointed him toward a place to stay.
She couldn’t help with work, but Bud managed that. He spent a couple months wrangling on a ranch that provided horses for movie companies, then a ramrod gave him decent money for stunt riding. He worked a few movies, collected a few scars, and learned enough about the industry to sour him. Every now and then, he called his parents, and he thought about Lily Shaw.
She was irritating, driven, and courageous, always acting like she was smarter. She liked to pretend that she had things to teach him.
It took years for Bud to learn…
I had a bit of a hard time with “Falling from Horses” at first. It’s slow, and moseys a little too much; in fact, I almost quit it twice.
But then, after thirty pages or so, I gasped at one of author Molly Gloss’s small plotlines. My “awwww” response was on high, and I realized that I was completely wrapped up in what’s ultimately a quiet novel of friendship and haunting memories.
The kicker is in the way that Gloss ekes out her backstory. Through that, we get to know characters that are integral to the tale but that barely make an appearance in it. Those glimpses were my favorite part here because they act to smooth out the edges of the rest of the novel. And no, I can’t tell you more.
Again, this book starts slow but stick with it. It’s worth it in the end, especially if you like old movies, old cowboys, or gentle tales. For you, “Falling from Horses” could be all you wish for.
Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin.