Sunday, February 21, 2010

Half Broke Horses - Jeannette Walls

Jeannette Walls bills her most recent book as fiction - most likely in an effort to avoid the accusations made against others such as James Frey in their not-quite-all-true memoirs. But, Half Broke Horses is Walls' best attempt at a biography of her own grandmother, Lily Casey Smith. Smith, a feminist before her time, grew up on a ranch in New Mexico where she was taught that a woman had no need for formal education, and should focus her energies on finding a husband. But, Smith had different plans. She struck out on her own to become a teacher, riding her horse out to Arizona. Smith's independent streak caused her to thumb her nose repeatedly at the establishment - which resulted in her frequent firings and her need to move on to new towns. She managed to find and lose love, to take care of her family without allowing herself to be tied down to them, and to make every reader wonder what she could have accomplished if given even half the opportunity of the men and boys around her. Walls is also the author of the memoir The Glass Castle in which she presents her own childhood as the chaotic result of free-thinking (and likely mentally unstable) parents. Knowing that end made reading this story of her grandmother's life all the more interesting. It also made me wonder how much truth lay in the perceptions of others, and how honest Walls could be in telling the story of a revered and much loved family member. All this of course makes for an incredible story, and makes her decision, in the end, to call the book "fiction" an honest one.

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