The Dog Doesn’t Die

Book reviews & random thoughts

Does the Dog Die? A Brief Review of The Hearts of Horses, by Molly Gloss

I loved Molly Gloss’s subtle storytelling in The Hearts of Horses. Instead of a strong, driving plot, Gloss opts to show a defined period of time — protagonist Martha Lessen’s long winter of 1917, during which she “gentles” some horses in an eastern Oregon county. Gloss slowly reveals the surprisingly complex Martha to us, along with the people she meets and their horses.

The story is also a picture of a time when the West was changing, and right before transportation, agriculture, and American society as a whole transformed into today’s urban, transit-powered times. Ranching was still something for rough young men, but most of those had gone off to fight in World War I. When 19-year-old Martha shows up with her own three horses offering to train ranchers’ wilder horses to saddle, the overwhelmed men who’d stayed behind really had little choice other than to hire her.

Martha was what we think of as a “horse whisperer,” using a calm, steady, and gentle approach to help her equine charges adjust to what was expected of them. She was much more comfortable around horses than people, and as her past is revealed, it becomes clear why this is. Yet she herself is slowly gentled into feeling more comfortable around the new people she meets.

Gloss spools out her tale like a series of vignettes. One of the things I like is that even the villains have dimension, and when one or two of them get their come-uppance, it isn’t a black-and-white situation. Martha’s sort-of-but-not-completely surprise ending is sweet, though it also takes her back to a dark part of her personal history.

As for animals, this is a tough one, and it’s made me think I need another rating category. So here it is: NO GRAPHIC DEPICTIONS OF HARM TO ANIMALS. That may evolve a bit. The point is, regarding The Hearts of Horses, there are times when you read of something bad that happened to an animal — a horse is injured, a dog is kicked — and it doesn’t go any further than a few words. Because horses are a significant focus of this book, there are many such instances. But Gloss never shows us much of this. When a horse is injured while in Martha’s care, for example, you mostly see Martha tending to the injury and don’t get the really awful images that will disturb some readers. There is a lot of that kind of thing in this book. There’s also a lot of love and respect and care given to the various animals, again mostly horses. So I’m going to say that this book is MOSTLY SAFE for animal lovers. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

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December 5, 2010 - Posted by | animals, Book Reviews, historical fiction, horses |

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