i was honestly pretty let down by this. it was one of the “it” books from 2013, so i was expecting to love it, but it really fell short of my expectations.
this book is narrated at a remove, from the perspective of an adult character looking back over her life and the decisions she made when she was a teenager, but it is told in the immediate first-person tense, with these occasional and jarring interjections from thea-now that kind of ruin the flow, and it is a sort of flabby read, with scenes that neither progress the narrative nor show any real insight into character or period or purpose.
there is just something bloodless about this book. it’s not that there’s no story here, there is: it’s about thea, a young girl who has lived for fifteen years in entitled luxury on an isolated estate in florida, secure in the love of her doting parents, beloved twin brother and her older cousin georgie, riding her pony and wanting for nothing, who becomes involved in a scandal and is sent away to riding camp as punishment, as the wider country begins to feel the strain of the great depression. it is about the long-term aftereffects of the civil war on the southern leisure class, and the expectations of young, well-bred ladies and how easily a reputation can be tarnished. it is about the dawning realization that wealth and status are relative and not indefensible. it is about that fragile state of sexual awakening, of knowing and not-knowing, getting carried away into insalubrious situations that snowball and digging the pit of shame ever deeper, not caring about the consequences.
which sounds like it should be excellent, yeah? but the problem is with the character. thea seems to oscillate between naive and calculating, kind and cold, self-assured and insecure on every other page. it doesn’t read like thea coming into her own and changing so much as an author who doesn’t know what kind of response she wants the reader to have to her character. is thea a wronged ingenue or a femme fatale? she is both, and it just doesn’t wash. it’s as though there are two characters competing for the same story-space.
the story weaves between thea’s life at camp and her time at home before being sent away, which will (eventually) relate the events that led to her getting sent away (which is telegraphed pretty early, so not really a shocker). the only thing unifying the two storylines is the presence of horses. horses, horses, horses. there is a lot of detail about horses and riding, the ways in which the rider develops a relationship with its mount through a combination of understanding the limitations of a horse’s mental capacity and the rider’s cruelty, and the power that is felt once the rider overcomes the horse’s reluctance and is established as the dominant of the two. which, you would think, would have been very easy to then apply as a narrative motif to the relationships thea makes with other people, but nope. not really.
and the ending?? just a mess, for me, with no reason for the decisions she makes once she leaves yonahlossee. and the biggest letdown of an epilogue ever. not printed as such, so i guess the biggest letdown of a closure ever. really flat and bleak without purpose.
there are parts i really liked, so it’s not a two-
star cat or anything, but after the first third or so, once i started seeing its weaknesses, i disengaged a little, and perked up for the nice bits, but then kind of submerged into reading for plot.
there were better books in 2013.