Half Broke Horses, Chapters 1 Through 3

February 9, 2011 | By | Comments (1)

I’m completely immersed in Half Broke Horses and had to restrain myself from reading ahead and finishing the whole thing this weekend. It certainly has that Little-House-on-the-Prairie-for-grownups vibe; I loved that the family started out living in a dugout, just like Laura Ingalls Wilder did in On the Banks of Plum Creek. I was a huge fan of those books as a kid—anyone else?

Jeannette Walls definitely has a gift for telling a good story. Lily makes a fantastic character; it’s nice to see such a strong female figure at a time when women were expected to be submissive and ladylike and the only three jobs available to them were “a nurse, a secretary, or a teacher.” I admired her spunk and wish that I could only be half as confident, bold, and fearless as she was. I consider myself to be fairly independent, but spending 28 days traveling alone on horseback through the desert, with barely more than a toothbrush, canteen, and bedroll on her back, at just 15 years old?? Though times are obviously different now, it really made me think about how sheltered and insulated my life has been. And then moving to Chicago—having never even seen a real city before—with nowhere to live, no job, no friends, and no connections—made me admire her even more. Clearly, I need to take more risks in my life! Do you feel that you’re a risk-taker like Lily—someone who just gets up and goes and trusts that everything will work out? Or do you tend to play it safe?

While Lily’s father had the most impact on her life and was a great role model in many ways, he was a source of frustration. I started out really liking him; he seemed intelligent, down-to-earth, and let Lily be Lily, and I was definitely sympathetic to his speech impediment and limp and the mocking he endured. I loved a lot of the common sense advice he gave her: If you’re going to risk your life, do it for a Purpose; In order to get along with someone, figure out what they want, and make them think you can help them get it; etc. But as the book went on, it became clear that for all the common-sense ideas he had, he could get obsessed with them (I loved the title of his book-in-progress, A Ghoti Out of Water—ha!) and that he had a lot of impractical, foolish ideas, too. When he pulled Lily out of school and used her tuition to buy Great Danes, I was horrified; it was obvious that his hare-brained schemes and selfish ambitions were in danger of bringing her and the entire family down. Luckily, Lily escaped without too much damage—at least for now—but I worry about what impact he’ll have on her life later in the story. What do you think of Lily’s father—do his positive qualities outweigh the negative ones? Will his influence ultimately help or hinder her?

The end of Chapter 3 is quite a turning point. While I suspected that Lily’s relationship with “huckster” Ted would end in heartbreak (the line “Maybe it was because I was missing Minnie and I needed someone in my life, but I fell hard for that fellow” seemed to foreshadow a bad end), I didn’t think she’d actually marry him, and I certainly didn’t think he would already be married with three children! As smart and savvy as Lily was, I guess there are some things, like a charming, worldly suitor, that no woman can resist. I’m sure we’ve all been there ourselves or had plenty of intelligent, attractive friends who end up falling for the wrong guy. It’s practically a rite of passage. I’m proud of Lily for seeing through Ted’s excuses and not feeling sorry for him when she confronts him, though I was a bit surprised she was able to restrain herself when she follows him to his apartment and meets his wife. I initially thought that if the same thing happened to me, I would have lost it right there and burst into the apartment screaming, but on second thought, I think I would have been so shocked that I would have needed time alone to process everything and figure out how I wanted to handle it. I don’t think I would have been as noble as Lily and thought about how making a scene would affect the wife and children. How do you think you would have reacted if you were in Lily’s place? 

Jeannette did a great job of drawing me into Lily’s world. There were a few times, though, when it would pop into my head—“But wait, this isn’t an autobiography—did this really happen? How much of this is factual, and how much is fiction?” I admit, this happens to me occasionally when I read biographies or based-on-a-true-story movies (most recently, with The Social Network). I tend to get a little overanalytical instead of just going with the flow of the story. Did that happen with anyone else?

For the rest of the book, I’m going to let myself get sucked into a great story and cast any doubts about what’s real and what isn’t aside. Next week, we’ll be diving into sections 4 through 6. I can’t wait to get back to the book and find out what happens next to our spunky hero Lily. Hope you’re enjoying it as much as I am—tell me what you think in the comments below!

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