The Horse Whisperer (novel)

dark horse runs in mountainsThe Horse Whisperer starts with a freak accident in which one teenage girl and her horse are killed, another girl and her horse both badly injured.

Grace Graves has to adjust to a prosthetic leg and fear of being different. Her horse, Pilgrim, is just as afraid, and he turns savage. The vet thinks Pilgrim’s injuries so severe he should be put down.

Annie Graves believes if Pilgrim dies, her daughter will never recover emotionally from the accident. Robert Graves fears Grace won’t recover if she’s coddled too much. Not a horse lover himself, he is not as keen on keeping Pilgrim alive.

When veterinarians can’t help Pilgrim, Annie casts a wider net, learning about a man said to be able to calm wild horses. She packs up Grace, has Pilgrim loaded into a horse trailer, and heads for Montana. Tom Booker, who has a ranch there, is said by some to be a horse whisperer, a magician with horses. Tom says what he does is train owners to listen to their horses.

A film industry veteran, Nicholas Evans projects his Rocky Mountain story onto readers’ imaginations. What he doesn’t do is tack a happy-ever-after on a deeply moving story about family dynamics.

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans
Delacorte Press. ©1995. 323 p.
1995 bestseller #10; my grade: A-

©2020 Linda G. Aragoni

Beggarman, Thief: Murder with a surprise ending

Beggarman, Thief is a sequel to Rich Man, Poor Man, but readers need have no acquaintance with Irwin Shaw’s 1970 bestseller to enjoy this 1977 follow-up.

cover of "Beggarman Thief" is all text
Complexity of “Beggarman, Thief” defies imagery.

Tom Jordache has been clubbed to death on the deck of his own ship in the harbor of Antibes.

After scattering Tom’s ashes, Tom’s sister, Gretchen, goes back to her Hollywood job.

Tom’s bride of five days goes home to England to bear Tom’s child there.

Toms 16-year-old son, Wesley, who had only shortly before come to live with his father, wants revenge.

Wesley vents his rage his loss on a man in a bar, nearly killing him. He’s released from jail on condition he leave France. He reluctantly goes to stay with his mother and her new husband in Indianapolis.

That leaves Rudolph, the brother Tom and Gretchen always disliked, to settle Tom’s estate in France and make sure Wesley doesn’t commit murder.

Handling unpleasant affairs is how Rudolph made his millions.

In Rich Man, Poor Man, Shaw presented a complicated family story. In Beggarman, Thief he adds both a murder and terrorism to a family story—and does it all with seeming effortlessness and an optimism missing in his 1970 novel.

When push comes to shove, the Jordaches are family.

Beggarman, Thief by Irwin Shaw
Delacorte Press, c.1977. 436 p.
1977 bestseller #7. My grade: A

©2018 Linda Gorton Aragoni

The Eighth Day: A simple story made complicated

The Eighth Day begins with murder of Breckenridge Lansing in his yard as he and his friend John Ashley are engaged in their customary Sunday afternoon rifle practice.

Tried and convicted for the murder, Ashley was rescued from execution by six silent, disguised men and never heard from again.


The Eighth Day by Thornton Wilder
Harper & Row, 1967. 435 p. 1967 bestseller #6. My grade: B+.

Having hooked his readers, Thornton Wilder plays them for another 400 pages, now letting them drift backward on the story line, them abruptly jerking them forward into the Great War era.

Set out in linear fashion, the plot would be fairly simple. Wilder’s literary style makes it complicated—which appears to be his point: The world’s bid and wide and our perspective is narrow.

Wilder dips deep into the histories of the Lansings and Ashleys, seeking family traits that the 1902 characters might have inherited that could explain their behaviors.

The time shifts nearly hide the absurdities in the plot.

Wilder’s characters are clearly drawn, entirely believable bundles of heroism and absurdities.

Despite that, whatever is distinctive about the characters is crushed beneath Wilder’s self-conscious style.

quote : compares way some people naturally idealize to silk moth's secretion

He produces bon mots as continuously as a Bombyx mori secretes silk.

quote: idealism of youth compared to silk moth's silk secretion

Two comparisons to a Bombyx mori secreting silk within 16 pages is one mot too many.

© 2017 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Politics damages All in the Family

Although Jack Kinsella’s Uncle Jimmy was a little man, when he threw his weight around, he got what he wanted.

Except for one time when his plan backfired.


All In the Family by Edwin O’Connor

Little, Brown, 1966. 434 pages. 1966 bestseller #10. My grade: B+.


Red type, black dingbats are only art on cover of All in the FamilyBy the time his three sons are grown, Jimmy decides one of them will have to go into politics to “give back.”

Since the eldest son has chosen the priesthood, the task falls to the youngest son, Charles.

The middle son, Phil, is his campaign manger.

Jimmy supplies money, influence, and drive, all of which has in abundance.

The family try to get cousin Jack involved, but as much as Jack loves his cousins, he is his father’s son: His father refused to bow to Jimmy’s will.

Besides, Jack is too focused on his reconciliation with his wife to have much time for politics.

Edwin O’Connor is a fine writer. The opening chapter is a pearl, worth reading all by itself.

Although O’Connor leaves a glimmer of hope in the final chapter, the novel is permeated with a sense of melancholy.

Jimmy’s ambition destroys his most cherished asset: his family.

© 2015 Linda Gorton Aragoni

Keyes missed boat with ’52 novel

Steamboat
Steamboat

Ornate mansions reminiscent of Mississippi riverboats were the inspiration for Steamboat Gothic. Like the architecture, Frances Parkinson Keyes’ novel is massive, ornate, and richly detailed. But like its architectural counterpart, the novel lacks the realistic characters that are the literary equivalent of indoor plumbing. And the book is so long, I kept wishing Keyes had been inspired by Bauhaus.

The story concerns Clyde Batchelor, an orphan boy who makes a fortune as a riverboat gambler. He woos and wins a Civil War widow, Lucy Page, and settles her in a Louisiana mansion.

The two live happily ever after, happily, that is, except for problems created by Lucy’s two children. Bushrod, an unpleasant child, grows into a thoroughly despicable man. Cary, the apple of her stepfather’s eye, is a delight until on her honeymoon she falls in love with a man other than her husband.

The last half of the novel traces the adventures of Cary’s son, Larry, as he grows to manhood during World War I. Larry inherits not only the family real estate, but the consequences of wrongs committed by his grandparents. He triumphs in the end, but by then nobody cares.

Steamboat Gothic
Frances Parkinson Keyes
Julian Messner, 1952
560 pages
1952 Bestseller #5
My grade: C-

Photo credit: “Steamboat 3” uploaded by Des1gn

© 2012 Linda Gorton Aragoni