Half Broke Horses

Half Broke Horses

Half Broke Horses is a 2009 novel by Jeannette Walls detailing the life of her grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.

Jeannette Walls (born April 21, 1960) is an American author and journalist widely known as former gossip columnist for MSNBC.com and author of The Glass Castle, a memoir of the nomadic family life of her childhood. Published in 2005, it remains on the New York Times Best Seller list (now in paperback form) as of the list dated June 3, 2018, having persisted there for 421 weeks.

Career

 

Early in her career Walls interned at a Brooklyn newspaper called The Phoenix and eventually became a full-time reporter there. From 1987 to 1993 she wrote the "Intelligencer" column for New York magazine. She then wrote a gossip column for Esquire, from 1993 to 1998, then contributed regularly to the gossip column "Scoop" at MSNBC.com from 1998 until her departure to write full-time in 2007.Walls has contributed to USA Today,and has appeared on The Today Show, CNN, Primetime, and The Colbert Report.

 

Her 2000 book, Dish: The Inside Story on the World of Gossip, was a humorous history of the role gossip has played in U.S. media, politics and life.

 

In 2005, Walls published the best-selling memoir The Glass Castle, which details the joys and struggles of her childhood. It offers a look into her life and that of her dysfunctional family. The Glass Castle was well received by critics and the public. It has sold over 2.7 million copies and has been translated into 22 languages. It received the Christopher Award, the American Library Association's Alex Award (2006), and the Books for Better Living Award. Paramount bought the film rights to the book, and in March 2013 announced that actress Jennifer Lawrence would play Walls in the movie adaptation. On October 9, 2015, it was reported that Lawrence withdrew from the film and she would be replaced by actress Brie Larson.

 

In 2009, Walls published her first novel, Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel, based on the life of her grandmother Lily Casey Smith. It was named one of the ten best books of 2009 by the editors of The New York Times Book Review.

 

Walls' latest novel, The Silver Star, was published in 2013.

summary

 

Half Broke Horses is the story of Lily Casey Smith’s life. Author Jeannette Walls, the granddaughter of Lily Casey Smith, wrote the book from Lily’s point of view. Lily is portrayed as a strong, spirited, and resourceful woman, who overcomes poverty and tragedy with the positive attitude that “When God closes a window, he opens a door. But it’s up to you to find it.” As a child growing up on the frontier in Texas, Lily learns how to break horses. At the age of fifteen, she rides five hundred miles, alone, to get to her job as a teacher in a one-room schoolhouse. Later in life, Lily runs a vast cattle ranch in Arizona, along with her second husband and their two children. A woman of many talents, Lily earns extra money at various points in her life by playing poker, selling bootleg liquor, and riding in horse races. She also tries to fight injustice and prejudice wherever she finds it, which occasionally lands her in trouble. Half Broke Horses depicts the freedom of rural life, its joys and struggles, and celebrates the courage and spirit of its protagonist. Jeannette Walls says the book is “in the vein of an oral history, a retelling of stories handed down by my family through the years, and undertaken with the storyteller’s traditional liberties.”

Reception

In The New York Times Book Review, critic Liesl Schillinger wrote, "Through the adventures of Lily Casey — mustang breaker, schoolteacher, ranch wife, bootlegger, poker player, racehorse rider, bush pilot and mother of two — Walls revisits the adrenaline-charged frontier background that gave her own mother a lifelong taste for vicissitude. 'I’m an excitement addict,' Rose Mary Walls liked to tell her children. And yet — can the contours of one woman’s life ever sufficiently explain the life that proceeds from hers? Rose Mary eventually found an anchor in the form of her daughter — the third generation of a line of indomitable women whose paths she has inscribed on the permanent record, enriching the common legend of our American past."[3] Critic Janet Maslin wrote of Jeannette Walls in The New York Times, "She has managed to make her second book almost as inviting as her first, even though its upright heroine is never as startling as Ms. Walls’s parents were.

 

Review:

nytimes.com

Liesl Schillinger

Jeannette Walls was raised in poverty and hardship by skittish, eccentrically idealistic, profoundly unfit parents. As Rex and Rose Mary Walls caromed between dying mining towns, both of them too willful to hold down a job, their four children slept in cardboard boxes, set themselves on fire, subsisted on margarine and cat food, and, as they grew older, struggled to hide their meager earnings from their father, who cheerfully robbed them to pay for his alcoholic sprees. Anyone who devoured Walls’s incandescent 2005 memoir, “The Glass Castle,” has wondered: How did such untamed characters come to exist in America, in the not-so-distant 1960s and ’70s? Walls’s new book, “Half Broke Horses,” a novelistic re-creation of the life of her maternal grand­mother, Lily Casey Smith, in the first half of the 20th century, told in her grandmother’s voice, gives a partial answer to that perplexing question. Through the adventures of Lily Casey — mustang breaker, schoolteacher, ranch wife, bootlegger, poker player, racehorse rider, bush pilot and mother of two — Walls revisits the adrenaline-­charged frontier background that gave her own mother a lifelong taste for vicissitude. “I’m an excitement addict,” Rose Mary Walls liked to tell her children. And yet — can the contours of one woman’s life ever sufficiently explain the life that proceeds from hers?

 

Lily Casey was born in 1901 in a one-room dugout in West Texas, on a parched flood plain on the banks of Salt Draw, near the Pecos River. Reading the word “dugout” early in these pages will set off a memory loop in the minds of the millions of women (and not a few men) who grew up reading Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books about her pioneer girlhood in the 1870s and ’80s, back when families traveled by covered wagon, not S.U.V. In 1874, Charles and Caroline Ingalls (Pa and Ma) moved their growing family into a grass-covered dugout on the Minnesota prairie. Garth Williams’s illustrations depicted the place as a flower-strewn, bucolic hobbit hole. When a steer’s leg came crashing through its sod ceiling, Wilder wrote that Ma and Laura “laughed because it was funny to live in a house where a steer could step through the roof. It was like being rabbits.”

Image

Credit...Illustration by Shannon Freshwater; photograph from “Half Broke Horses”

 

The Caseys’ dugout was less jolly: “scorpions, lizards, snakes, gophers, centi­pedes and moles wormed their way out of our walls and ceilings.” In rainstorms, Walls writes, “the dugout turned to mud. Sometimes clumps of that mud dropped from the ceiling and you had to put it back in place.” Once, during an Easter dinner, a rattlesnake dropped onto the table, and Lily’s father took a break from carving the ham to chop off its head.

 

Wilder’s stories have acquired such mythic power (in “The Glass Castle,” Walls lists them among her favorite childhood books) that it can be easy to forget how many American families shared similar histories, each with their own touchstones of calamity, endurance and hard-won reward. With convincing, unprettified narration, Walls weaves her own ancestor into this collective rough-and-tumble heritage.

 

Like Laura Ingalls, Lily Casey grew up on farms in sparsely populated country, learning self-reliance and doing chores without complaint. At age 5, she helped her father train carriage-horse teams and, once a week, hitched up the buckboard and drove into a nearby town to sell eggs. After the family’s dugout collapsed in a flood and a tornado smashed in the roof of their next house, the Caseys moved to a ranch in New Mexico. Because her father had a gimpy leg and a speech impediment, and “was never the most practical man in the world,” it was Lily, age 11, who hired and fired laborers and oversaw the tilling, planting, harvesting, peach picking and manure spreading. Her mother, who “worked very hard at being a lady,” was no help. She was “dainty, only four and a half feet tall, and her feet were so small that she had to wear button-up boots made for girls.” While her mother wore corsets and rubbed her hands with a paste of honey, lemon juice and borax to keep them white, Lily acted as ranch foreman (and tightened her mother’s laces, as needed).

 

At 13, Lily was permitted to leave the ranch to go to school in Santa Fe, but she had to leave midway through the term after her father squandered her tuition money on four Great Danes, dreaming of puppy mill riches. But a neighbor, Old Man Pucket, shot the dogs almost immediately, claiming they had spooked his cattle. No matter. As the Ingalls family would say, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.” As restitution, Old Man Pucket gave the Caseys eight “half-broke” mustangs — unshod and unused to the saddle. It was one of these, a mare, that Lily lassoed, tamed, broke and rode off on, alone, to a teaching job 500 miles west, in Red Lake, Ariz. She was 15 at the time, the same age Laura Ingalls was when she took a job at a lonely prairie school to help her family’s finances.

Image

Credit...Illustration by Shannon Freshwater; photograph from “Half Broke Horses”

 

Unlike Ingalls, Lily Casey wasn’t homesick; she relished her independence. “I’d been on the road, out in the sun and sleeping in the open, for 28 days. I was tired and caked with dirt. I’d lost weight, my clothes were heavy with grime and hung loosely, and when I looked in a mirror, my face seemed harder. . . . But I had made it.” The circumstances of the two young teachers’ employment were also different. Ingalls got her job because teachers were scarce out west in the 1880s. Lily got hers because World War I was on, men were overseas, and certified lady teachers had left their schoolhouses to take factory jobs.

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For four years, blissfully freed from back-breaking ranch chores, Lily taught school in Arizona. But when the seasoned teachers returned after the war, she had to start all over again. She found work as a maid in Chicago (her first employer fired her, saying, “You don’t seem to know your place”), married and dumped a two-­timing no-account scoundrel, then took some college courses and moved back to Red Lake to teach school. There she met the man, Jim Smith, who would become Jeannette Walls’s grandfather — just in time for the Great Depression.

 

The Smiths rode out the hard times by managing a 100,000-acre cattle ranch for its British owners, fighting both the elements and the tax collector. Lily made chairs out of orange crates and drinking cups out of coffee cans, and sent her two children out to scavenge bottles for the refund money. When Rose Mary was little, she relished their rugged life, but hated to watch the cowboys on the ranch break wild horses. “I feel bad for the horses,” she told Lily. “They just want to be free.” “In this life,” her mother responded, “hardly anyone gets to do what they want to do.” But when Rose Mary Smith grew up and met Rex Walls, they resolved to do just that.

 

In an author’s note, Walls writes that she considers “Half Broke Horses” less a novel than an “oral history, a retelling of stories handed down by my family through the years.” But her grandmother’s eventful trajectory would never be known to the rest of us had Walls not set these memories down on paper. Her grandmother, many years ago, opposed Rose Mary’s marriage to Rex Walls. “My daughter needs an anchor,” she told him. “The problem with being attached to an anchor,” he retorted, is that it makes it “hard to fly.” Rose Mary got to fly, in a way; but Lily Casey Smith also got her wish. Rose Mary eventually found an anchor in the form of her daughter — the third generation of a line of indomitable women whose paths she has inscribed on the permanent record, enriching the common legend of our American past.

 

 




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