Tuesday, June 2, 2015

The Language of Hoofbeats

Product Details

Whenever I'm looking for a respite from the deep, dark literature that is my forte, I turn to authors who made me feel good in the past. Do you remember the delightful book, "Pay it Forward," by Catherine Ryan Hyde that became a foundation ( http://www.payitforwardfoundation.org/ )and a film? Well, Amazon was offering some great deals on e-books for the kindle so I bought one of Hyde's newer novels, "The Language of Hoofbeats," hoping for a boost of endorphins. Though I had issues with parts of her book, it generally satisfied the "feel good" criteria.

Do you know, live with, or work with a person whom you might describe as having gotten up on the wrong side of the bed? You know, the one you can't speak with until noon for fear of reprisal or the one you finally eliminate from your roster of friends because he or she is just too much of a downer? Now just imagine if you knew someone who was BORN on the wrong side of the bed! Think about how difficult it would be to even live with oneself in that condition, let alone to maintain relationships.

Ms. Hyde brings two such characters together in this novel that touches on several difficult themes, grief, mental illness, foster parenting, and the incompetent family court system. Paula and Jackie Archer-Cummings are a married lesbian couple who complete their family by adopting or fostering emotionally troubled children, one of whom, fifteen-year-old Star, suffers from severe anger issues.

 They've recently relocated to central California where Paula, the bread-winner, will take over an established veterinary clinic. Their only neighbors, Vernon and Clementine (the other character who is always angry), have a horse, Comet, who appears to be suffering from neglect. Perfect, you might say. A vet in one house and a horse in need next door. But no, it's soon obvious that Clementine wants nothing to do with the new neighbors, and the more she avoids them, the more their lives intertwine.

In alternating chapters, short, conversational, and easily and quickly read, Jackie and Clem verbalize their inner angst as they each try to negotiate their new realities, Jackie's as a stay at home mom to three step kids, and Clem's as a lonely, soon to be divorced, sixty-something curmudgeon longing for connection but terrified to articulate it.

Against Clem's wishes yet seemingly powerless to stop it, the unmanageable Star sneaks out each night, letting herself into Comet's corral, to groom and minister and communicate with the lonely horse. One night, when she can't stand herself another minute, Star breaks open the corral and rides Comet out into the night and, in an instance, the relationship between Clem and her new neighbors rises to an entirely new level.

Catherine Ryan Hyde is, according to her website, an avid equestrian and it shows in her loving attention to the bond between Star and Comet. It's obvious that she fervently believes, as do I, in the power of a healing language between animals and humans.

Where the novel could use improvement is in the disappointingly one-dimensional characterization of the couple, Paula and Jackie. It's especially surprising since their children, Quinn, Mando, and Star, are so much more complex and fun to be with. A mild quibble to be sure for a great beach read that you can finish in a day and bookend with the more difficult stuff.

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