Synopses & Reviews
In the winter of 1917, nineteen-year-old Martha Lessen saddles her horses and heads for a remote county in eastern Oregon, looking for work gentling wild horses. She chances on a rancher, George Bliss, who is willing to hire her on. Many of his regular hands are off fighting the war, and he glimpses, beneath her showy rodeo garb, a shy but strong-willed girl with a serious knowledge of horses.
So begins the irresistible tale of a young but determined woman trying to make a go of it in a man's world. Over the course of several long, hard winter months, many of the townsfolk witness Martha talking in low, sweet tones to horses believed beyond repair — and getting miraculous, almost immediate results. Ultimately, her gifts will earn her a place of respect in the community.
With an elegant sweetness like that found in Plainsong, and a winning energy as in Water for Elephants, The Hearts of Horses delivers a heartwarming, greatly satisfying story about the unexpected and profound connections between people and animals.
"Gloss's austere latest (after Wild Life) features a wandering taciturn tomboy who finds her place in rural Oregon while the men are away at war. After she leaves home in 1917, 19-year-old Martha Lessen plans to travel from farm to farm in Elwha County, Oregon, breaking horses left behind by owners away fighting. She winds up in small town Shelby, where farmers George and Louise Bliss convince her to stay the winter with them after she domesticates their broncos with soft words and songs instead of lariats and hobbles. While breaking the town's horses, Martha meets a slovenly drunk, a clan of Western European immigrants and two unmarried sisters running a ranch with the help of an awkward, secretive teenager. When Martha's not making the rounds or riding through the Clarks Range, Louise tries her hand at socializing (or, perhaps, breaking) her, but Martha chafes at town dances, social outings and Louise's hand-me-down church dresses. Gloss's narrative is sometimes as slow as Martha's progress with the more recalcitrant beasts, but following stubborn, uncompromising Martha as she goes about her work provides its own unique pleasures." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[T]here isn't a false move in this poignant novel, which demonstrates as much insight into the hearts of men and women as into the hearts of horses....[T]here's someone on your holiday list who will feel blessed by Gloss's gentle story." The Washington Post Book World
"Gloss...offers an acutely observed, often lyrical portrayal that mirrors ourown era and, title notwithstanding, has as much to say about people as about horses." Kirkus Reviews
"[A] delightfully down-home, matter-of-fact voice." Booklsit
"Gloss' intimacy with the landscape and ranch life is conveyed beautifully in particulars and small observations." Los Angeles Times
"It's an Oregon of the mind Gloss takes her readers to, one that evanesces with her narrator's imaginary breath." Seattle Times
"Gloss stitches together not so much a plot, more an assembly of parallel tales connected by unceasing labor and then by the additional demands of the war." San Francisco Chronicle
"A shining example of Molly Gloss' gifts." Amy Bloom, A Blind Man Can See How Much I Love You
"Gloss has...a permanent place on the shelf of American literature [featuring] smart, independent women." Kent Haruf, author of Plainsong
With an elegant sweetness and a pitch-perfect sense of western life reminiscent of Annie Dillard, Gloss's breakout novel is a remarkable story about the connections between people and animals and how they touch one another in the most unexpected and profound ways.
This breakout novel from the author of The Jump-Off Creek tells the heartwarming story of a determined young woman with a gift for “gentling” wild horses.
In the winter of 1917, a big-boned young woman shows up at George Blisss doorstep. She's looking for a job breaking horses, and he hires her on. Many of his regular hands are off fighting the war, and he glimpses, beneath her showy rodeo garb, a shy but strong-willed girl with a serious knowledge of horses.
So begins the irresistible tale of nineteen-year-old Martha Lessen, a female horse whisperer trying to make a go of it in a mans world. It was thought that the only way to break a horse was to buck the wild out of it, and broken ribs and tough falls just went with the job. But over several long, hard winter months, many of the townsfolk in this remote county of eastern Oregon witness Martha's way of talking in low, sweet tones to horses believed beyond repair—and getting miraculous, almost immediate results—and she thereby earns a place of respect in the community.
Along the way, Martha helps a family save their horses when their wagon slides into a ravine. She gentles a horse for a dying man—a last gift to his young son. She clashes with a hired hand who is abusing horses in unspeakable ways. Soon, despite her best efforts to remain aloof and detached, she comes to feel enveloped by a sense of community and family that shes never had before.
With the elegant sweetness of Plainsong and a pitch-perfect sense of western life reminiscent of Annie Dillard, The Hearts of Horses is a remarkable story about how people and animals make connections and touch each other's lives in the most unexpected and profound ways.
About the Author
Molly Gloss is the author of The Dazzle of the Day, a New York Times Notable Book, and The Jump-Off Creek, a finalist for the PEN/Faulkner Award. She teaches writing and literature of the American West at Portland State University and lives in Portland, Oregon. Wild Life, her third novel, is the winner of the James Tiptree Award for literary fantasy.