Jul 21, 2008

Never judge a man by his cowboy outfit; or A Horse Called Bonnie

A Horse Called Bonnie
by Pat Johnson and Barbara van Tuyl
Published: 1971

Because I'm still attempting to get my hands on A Home for Melanie without breaking down and buying it (I don't own the majority of the New Generation...I know, it's a tragedy), I'm spending my time with Julie Jefferson and Bonnie instead. After all, The Sweet Running Filly was awesome, right? It would stand to reason that the sequel would be just as good.

Unfortunately, I bring bad news. I read this book with a look of utter confusion on my face, I am sure. I was gaping at the text on the page with open befuddlement. In fact, if anyone had seen me read this, I'm sure I would have been questioned on if I was okay. I was not okay. To the blurb:

Hope and Heartbreak

When young Julie Jefferson started to race her horse Bonnie under the colors of Fieldstone Farm, the future looked bright. There was the excitement of turning an untried filly into a racing horse, the trainers and jockeys who helped teach Julie the tricks of the trade, and the growing certainty that Bonnie was the stuff of which great champions were made.

But suddenly everything changed. Someone was out to steal Bonnie, or else make sure the gallant filly would never win another race -- and dangerous illness darkened the horse's chances still further. It seemed that heartbreak waited at the finish line for Julie Jefferson and her dream -- until the courageous girl made a daring gamble in a story whose thrilling climax will leave readers gasping with surprise and delight.

Yeah, I hate blurbs like this. It goes along, trying to tell you about the story, and then it turns to the seedy salesman approach at the end. It never fails to piss me off. This one seems to imply that not only will we like the story, it will help readers achieve orgasm. On top of this, the blurb is magnificently ridiculous. It verges on being completely wrong, if the book had not been fantastically weird to begin with. So, here we go:

Because this book is a sequel we have to start out with something that will remind us all of the first book and its wacky adventure. This is accomplished in a letter Mr. Tolkov sends to the Jockey Club regarding how Bonnie actually was discovered and blah blah blah. Long story short, Mr. Tolkov wants to register Bonnie. Julie gets this done in person and actually gets her first choice for the filly's name: Sunbonnet. Which is cute. It gets my stamp of approval. I had that horrible feeling that they were going to name her Star Princess and that would have sent my Thoroughbred alarms going full tilt.

Anyway, Julie and Monty are getting Bonnie ready for her maiden race right when a telegram arrives from St. Clair farm informing Julie that her father fell off a ladder and none of his animal friends saved him from injuring his back. So she calls up Stash at St. Clair farm and he tells her all about this horrible ladder episode while I wonder to myself why she doesn't call her father. But no, she can't worry him with her worrying, so Stash tells her he's sent his son, Beau, to nurse Mr. Jefferson until they can get him into his extremely pricey surgery. Dismayed that she's living in a society without universal health care, Julie does something incredibly stupid. Like, this is where I made that "what?" face. I was so blown over by this sheer, crazy ass idiocy I started laughing hysterically. Bonnie's maiden race closes before they can get the filly into the field (sloppy set up #1) and Julie is desperate for quick cash (incredibly sloppy set up #2) so the racing secretary takes her over to the condition book to look for a suitable race and finds absolutely nothing (completely irrational sloppy set up #3) except for a $20,000 CLAIMER.

Yes, that's right. Everyone reasons that no one would know who Bonnie is, what with her new ID number and new name and...the same parents and birth year and sex...but hey! Who's paying attention to measily details like that, especially when they can just read them out of a racing form? Convinced that everyone who attends horse races or has half a brain would never connect Bonnie to Star Princess, Deepwater Farm (which Julie, I must inform everyone again, WORKS FOR), and the fact that Bonnie was that $400,000 record yearling of only a year previous that Deepwater Farm BOUGHT, Julie, without speaking to anyone else, enters her precious horse that is her everything in a CLAIMING RACE.

So, right about here, you can see my problem. It is the stupidest set up for a plot in the history of stupid set ups. I am just stunned. STUNNED. I...just don't have words.

Because this is a set up, of course someone claims Bonnie. I mean, we saw that coming about two hundred zillion miles away. And of course, Julie is STUNNED. And I want to SMACK her. What the hell? Oh my God.

WHATEVERS! We've got more ridiculous plot to get through, because after Bonnie has been claimed by someone who looks like Clint Eastwood from his stint as The Man With No Name (I am so dead serious. Think Stetson and duster and boots and holsters), Monty thinks something is seriously up about this crap. No, really. Like, putting a horse that is obviously a worth while claim to anyone with eyes in a claiming race and having it wind up claimed means some nefarious evil is afoot. And Monty is going to find out what's going on, damn it! So Julie spends some time sniffling in a stall and Monty goes on a war path, going to the racing secretary to find out who claimed the horse. The racing secretary does one of those classic "I can't help you but oh look here's the name of the guy and it's not my fault if you read it and see the phone number right there and oh, I have to leave my office right now but feel free to use the phone all you like while I pretend to not know what you're doing" acts.

See, the thing about this book is that despite the blatant stupidity, it's still funny in that dry humor way. I appreciate that. It's the only thing that kept me going.

So Monty discovers that Bonnie was claimed by this guy named Rodinbaugh (our Clint Eastwood) for this guy named Mr. Black. Monty tries to call up Black, but he's not around and Rodinbaugh is all pissy and this all culminates in Julie flying to New York to talk to Black. This results in a really out of nowhere and weird conversation with Black's wife and his two very annoying teeny bopper daughters. Then Black arrives and everyone swoops in to meet him, including the cat. Julie finds out that Black had no idea what Rodinbaugh was doing, making the claim invalid. So Julie flies back to Kentucky and discovers that Bonnie is being raced back by Rodinbaugh. She exclaims that that can't happen (and I think that this is probably because the horse just ran the day before, but whatever) and so Monty and the racing secretary and Julie run to stop the race but it's too late. The race goes off and the new jockey beats the crap out of Bonnie and Julie is forlorn and Bonnie wins but is disqualified because she was entered with Black as her owner. Then Rodinbaugh has his license revoked and that's that.

Only Bonnie is traumatized! Woe! She won't have a man on her back while going at high speeds, and she doesn't like starting gates anymore and she's generally just put out by the whole racing experience. She wants nothing to do with it...expect when Julie is on her back. So, now our Thoroughbred plot has shifted into full gear. They go to Hialeah for his "Forget-Me-Not Stakes" and Bonnie is dumping Beau every chance she can get. Because Julie is the only one that can really ride Bonnie, it's decided that Julie should get her jockey license. But because she's a girl the stewards won't let her, which leads Mr. Tolkov to basically sue everyone. And then Bonnie colicks and that takes about an eternity to resolve.

While Beau, Julie and Monty are busy being completely incompetent, Rodinbaugh shows up. Now, it's worth while to mention that Julie has been completely paranoid about Rodinbaugh for the entirety of the book. She's sure he's out to get her and steal Bonnie or something equally stupid. Like cause her to colic. So Rodinbaugh appears and everyone starts in a fashion that they basically all stumble over each other and upset the horse while Rodinbaugh demands to know what is wrong with them. This, I feel, is an excellent question.

Meanwhile, Mr. Jefferson has had his surgery and is visiting them in Florida, he calls up Stash in Ohio and they get to talking about this magic cure for colic that involves a hypodermic needle. The kind you'd perform a spinal tap with. I don't know the terms for this, but whatever. So Mr. Jefferson goes off on this wild hunt for a giant needle and Stash flies in from Ohio, only then Mr. Jefferson's car won't start because his battery is dead. Beyond jumping dead. Stranded at the airport and apparently incapable of calling a taxi or taking a bus, they basically sit on their asses and wait for someone to realize that they're stuck there.

Okay, so back to Hialeah. Monty gets kicked in the shoulder and has to go to the doctor, leaving Rodinbaugh and Julie together. Julie gets the message from Beau that Stash and her dad are at the airport. Rodinbaugh offers to get them in his car and Beau says he can just get a taxi and Rodinbaugh gets all pissed again because HE HAS A CAR YOU IDIOTS. Then he gets totally fed up with these people and picks up Julie, throws her over his shoulder, dumps her in his car (which I'm guessing would be awesome because it's black and menacing looking) and takes off for the airport. During this time they have a long conversation about how he's a nice person but had a lonely childhood and that's why he dresses up like Clint Eastwood and is pissy all the time. And they have a long chat about how cool Pegasus is. Basically, by the end of it I was halfway expecting Julie to crawl into Rodinbaugh's lap and make out with him. This, much to my disappointment, did not happen.

Anyway, they pick up Stash and the needle and then Stash stabs Bonnie with the needle and this means she is okay again. Yay. Julie kisses Rodinbaugh on the cheek, causing gasps from all, and restrained jealousy from Monty. Who has done absolutely nothing regarding his extremely veiled lust for her so I don't care about his stupid feelings.

So because Mr. Tolkov is awesome and rich, he successfully gets Julie's license and she's all set to ride Bonnie. But then these newspaper articles come out and declare who Bonnie really is because I guess everyone who watches horse racing really is stupid and didn't really know who Bonnie was. Rodinbaugh just had an in on the information because he's the uncle of one of the Deepwater assistant trainers. This starts up a completely illogical problem: the other jockeys in the Forget-Me-Not Stakes don't want to race against Julie and Bonnie because they are a "team" and the odds are incredibly stacked against them. They say either they get another jockey for Bonnie or they'll strike and it will be a match race between Bonnie and this other jockey who doesn't care who he races against. Rodinbaugh calls them out as cowardly assholes, but everyone else is all hey, yeah, they're actually right. And the second most IDIOTIC thing happens: Julie decides to NOT RIDE.

And I have no idea where that plot was even going. The book kept pushing for this whole female equality thing and then in the end Julie gives in. Beau rides Bonnie instead and they have some moment of true understanding and win in a photo.

I don't know what else to even say about this book other than it's totally and unexpectedly bad next to The Sweet Running Filly. However, it still has some of that awesomeness from the previous book and some fun dialogue. It's just that the plot was a complete and contrived mess.

That's it, guys. The next one in the series is called Sunbonnet: Filly of the Year (not at all telling), and written only by Barbara van Tuyl, so we'll see if the series minus one author improves it or makes it worse. I've also got Not on a White Horse by Nancy Springer (more childhood nostalgia!) as I wait some more on A Home For Melanie.


molly said...

...what the hell is this shit?

Not your recaps, obviously, just the weird shit this series is made of.

Thanks for the lead in finding The Palomino, btw. I've been looking for it for ages and for some reason it'd never turn up for me on Amazon. I should've just stolen the hospital's copy ;)

I wonder how many books there are where the title starts with "A Horse Called." I can think of at least one more (A Horse Called Mystery, which I only vaguely remember for having a nice cover and being kind of dull.)


Huh. Guess the cover wasn't as awesome as I remembered.

Claire said...

you're welcome for the help finding the palomino. someone who enjoyed it more than i did deserves to have it :)

and mara, your review frightens me...because i just decided to buy this book after rereading sweet running filly, and now i don't know whether to be terrified or to anticipate the sheer craziness.

i'm also really curious to hear your take on the nancy springer book. she was an author i just never liked.

molly said...

I'm not sure that I'll enjoy it much now (remember, the last time I read it I WAS in the mental ward), but I loved it as a kid and for that alone, I figure I should have it.

sundae_mourning said...

oh man Molly, if you think this is weird, wait until you get to the book where Bonnie returns to the track after giving birth to twins, despite suffering a supposedly career-ending injury. it's so ridiculous that i almost had to turn to the beginning and start the book again because it made no sense whatsoever. (and i'm not talking about the twins, i'm talking about the twist that i will not spoil because it was just so out there i never saw it coming).