Falling From Horses by Molly Gloss

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When I returned to Oregon in the mid-90s, I was actively looking for local authors as part of acclimatizing to my new job. The first recommendation pressed upon me – by dozens of people – was someone I’d never heard of: Molly Gloss. When I read her Oregon Book Award winner “The Jump-Off Creek,” I was stunned by the depth of the characters, the vivid sense of place, the captivating story, the spare, glimmering prose. I wanted more.

However, I had to wait. Gloss is not a prolific writer; she spends years crafting each novel. But every seven years or so since then, I’ve welcomed her next offering like the new best friend I’m about to meet.

In “Falling From Horses,” her fifth novel for adults, Gloss returns to the historical western to explore the myth of the cowboy and its impact on American society. It’s almost a sequel to its predecessor, “The Hearts of Horses,” as it follows the next generation of the same ranch family struggling to survive in Harney County during the Depression. In other ways, it’s a different book altogether.

Atypically for Gloss, the primary voice is male and in the first person, as laconic Bud Frazer recounts his transformative year as an aspiring Hollywood stunt rider in 1938. The story circles and repeats and grows, in a pitch perfect rendition of the oral tradition. In the first pages, Bud meets would-be screenwriter Lily Shaw on the Greyhound south from Klamath Falls, and the pair becomes de facto family as they risk life, limb, and virtue in pursuit of their dreams. Or perhaps, in escape from their nightmares.

While there is cruelty and tragedy in the story, Bud and Lily help us understand the different ways we can make peace with that. As always after reading a book by Gloss, I feel like I understand people better, like I’m a better person myself.

Perhaps it’s worth the seven year wait. – Connie Bennett, Library Director

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