I’ve been really into Westerns and horse books lately. This is surprising to me, since I’ve only been horseback riding twice and both times it was a total disaster. In January, I re-read All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy and then A Girl’s Life, Marianne Gingher’s memoir of a horse-loving childhood . I also finally bought a copy of Larry McMurtry’s Lonesome Dove, but I need a free month to sit down and read it properly. And my most recent reads have been two horse-filled works of contemporary fiction that fall into the “Western” category, but also defy it.
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I’ll be honest: I picked up Close Range: Wyoming Stories, a collection of short stories by Annie Proulx, because it contains “Brokeback Mountain.” It’s one of my favorite movies and I was curious to see how much material they had to add to make a feature film. Turns out, Proulx did all their work for them. She covers five decades in the lives of two men with incredible economy. Her language is rich and seamless, the dialogue is vibrant, and the story itself is genuine and heartbreaking in a way that the movie can only really play at. I read it on an airplane–the girl next to me must have thought I was nuts. I SOBBED, which wouldn’t have been so crazy, but the story right before “Brokeback” is “55 Miles to the Gas Pump,” which made me laugh hysterically.
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A friend lent me Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson a couple months ago. Well, he didn’t lend it to me, he forced it upon me, insisting that it was absolutely unlike anything else. He was right. Petterson is a Norwegian author, so the tale of rural boyhood, wartime, and horseback-riding (something familiar to me from American authors) is set in a village in northern Europe. We hear the story from an old, withdrawn narrator, how he lived in the woods with his father for a summer when he was fifteen, how he observed so much in his life and the lives of his neighbors, but didn’t know what much of it meant. Be sure to read the fantastic feature from the New York Times Book Review, which declared Out Stealing Horses one of the five best fiction books of the year. Nota bene: Algonquin Books does not endorse the stealing of horses … though it sounds pretty cool.
–Susannah Long, Intern