Aug 25, 2008

You can't tame what wants to run into a tornado and die.

Taming the Star Runner
by S.E. Hinton

As requested by Kerry, I decided to pick up Taming the Star Runner. It's by S.E. Hinton, who is using the ever popular replace your first name with initials so readers won't know you're a woman method, because little boys everywhere are too afraid to pick up books written by women because it's not manly to read books written by women. What's with that, little boys?

Well, anyway. You too can request a book for us to read. It's very simple. Just run over to the requests page and ask away to your heart's delight. We're slowly, but surely, trying to comply with the demand here at the Whitebrook Farm Blog.
Travis is the epitome of cool, especially when he's in trouble. But when he's sent to stay on his uncle's ranch, he finds that his tough attitude doesn't make him any friends and his city survival skills are no match for the unforgiving land around him.

He does find friendship of a sort with Casey, who runs a riding school at the ranch. She's the bravest person Travis has ever met. She's crazy enough to try to tame the Star Runner, her beautiful, dangerous horse that's always on edge, about to explode. It's clear to Travis that he and the Star Runner are two of a kind -- wild creatures not meant to be tamed.
This blurb is going along normally until that last sentence, when whoever wrote this summary decided to smack me in the face with the very obvious fact that the Star Runner and Travis are two of a kind. Hey, summary writer, I kind of got that to begin with. You could have said something else instead, like, how Travis learns that it's not okay to be a narcissistic asshole, but no, we just get a promise that he's going to remain "wild" for the entirety of the book.

Okay, everybody, meet Travis. Travis is a troubled sixteen-year-old kid who wants to be the next F. Scott Fitzgerald. Basically, this means that Travis is a prick. Notice how I could have said that Travis aims to rise above his problems and become the next Great American Writer before succumbing to alcohol and then collapsing at a relatively young age. No, Travis is just a prick. You see that "epitome of cool" line at the beginning of the summary? Travis genuinely believes this.

So the deal here is that Travis has this stepfather, Stan. Stan is your typical evil stepparent. He slaps around Travis's mom, refuses to have any photo of Travis's dead dad in the house, and randomly burned some of Travis's manuscripts because he thought it was clutter and, of course, you burn clutter. In front of your stepson. Of course you do. So, unnaturally evil Stan basically sets himself up for a fight, and Travis doesn't hold back, which lands him in jail. When he gets out, his mom decides to defuse the situation by sending Travis to her dead husband's brother's ranch in Oklahoma for the school year.

In Oklahoma, Travis is plagued by suddenly not being cool and not being able to drink whiskey at home. Life is so, so hard. He's also forced to hang out with girls all the time, because Ken, the uncle, has a barn that he leases out to Casey, our resident horse loving girl. Casey is trying to figure out this Star Runner horse, who is not wild so much as mean. Travis describes Casey as good-looking, if she were a guy. I don't know what to take from this. There's also a hoard of other girls -- Kristen, Kelsey, Jennifer, and Robyn. Jennifer is the pretty one, and Robyn is the insane "fat one." By insane, I mean she spends most of her time snorting coke and walking around shirtless because she's "good at taking her clothes off" because she's been strip searched so often.

So the book continues on about how Travis thinks he's cool and how everyone in Oklahoma doesn't understand his coolness. Then he gets the notice that his book is being accepted by a publisher, and he decides it's time to party until he gets sick. Being sixteen, this would be a problem. Fortunately for Travis, Ken keeps some Crown Royal around and he more or less downs that and manages to slip unnoticed into a bar that you get the distinct impression isn't cool enough for Travis (at least, according to him). Only then the owner finds out he's not 21 and flips out and fires the bouncer and the bouncer kicks the living crap out of Travis. All the while Travis is drunk and convinced that he'd be able to "take" the bouncer if he was not drunk. However, seeing as how I once worked with a bouncer, I really highly...HIGHLY...doubt that this is possible. I also dislike this whole scene. Sure, no one likes underage kids in bars because mainly they're annoying, but no owner is going to flip out to that degree. Just escort the kid to the sidewalk and get on with your life. Who the hell cares?

Anyway, Ken picks Travis up and Travis is all self-important about being drunk while Ken is not impressed. Neither am I, really. Later on, Travis, through his hung over haze, kills a water moccasin and earns Casey's respect in doing so, only then he hears from his mom via phone that evil Stan is up to no good and wants to read Travis's book before they sign any contracts. You see, he wants to make sure he's not in the book. Travis flips and throws the phone, narrowly missing Ken's toddler. Ken briefly thinks about kicking Travis out because Ken's soon-to-be-ex-wife doesn't like it when phones are thrown at her toddler. Travis cries, and all is well because when main characters cry everyone seems to magically understand their plight.

At this point, the editor from the publishing house comes along and gets Travis talking about books and reading and whoa if that wasn't fun for Travis and boring for me. Travis admits that he tried to read a book by F. Scott Fitzgerald that involved sipping sherry and he didn't get it, giving all readers a chance to feel superior to Travis. The editor talks about cleaning up the language in his book a little and end scene. Travis skips along, thrilled that he's being published. His mom takes back what Stan said about reading the book, and all is well.

But then there's this horse show that goes on and on forever. The Star Runner dumps Casey and she cracks a rib, but rides the next day and wins, of course. Travis takes this opportunity to kiss her, because he randomly fell in love with her after he decided she was good-looking if she was a guy. Casey discourages any relationship, but acknowledges that Travis somehow knows her better than anyone. They are so alike...and...stuff.

Now, apparently Travis left a bit of a power vacuum back in whatever dirty city he came from and his friends fell in with this guy named Orson, who had them all robbing houses. He discovers this after the horse show when Joe, random dirty city friend, calls him up from the local gas station to inform Travis that he hitch hiked all the way to Oklahoma and had to jump out of a moving vehicle when the driver started to get a little squirrelly. Travis and Casey pick him up and Travis breaks out the Crown Royal and Joe tells his sob story about how Orson, "the twins" and he were robbing houses. Only the twins did a job by themselves without giving Orson anything, and Orson went insane and shot them point blank. In the head. With a twenty-two. Ken, being a lawyer, dumps Joe off with the authorities and they all drive back home in what appears to be one of those massive storms I so anxiously remember back when I used to live in tornado alley.

So this tornado comes along and they try to get the horses in, only the Star Runner gets out of his paddock. So Casey and Travis jump in her car and try to chase the Star Runner down. In so doing they very vaguely drive straight into the tornado. I guess the Star Runner gets away, or maybe dies, or something. S.E. Hinton got heavy on the melodrama at the end, so who knows. There was some reference to burning flesh, and Travis is deaf for a few days, and Casey is fine, but no longer interested in Travis, so Travis transfers his affection to Jennifer and starts to write his next book.
  • They were flying, skimming the road, the Central guys left behind long ago, and nobody, man, nobody thought he'd get the car back down. Here, Travis oohs and ahhs us with his fantastic drag racing abilities while chugging beer. I guess they're going 115 and there's some question about if they can stop? I don't know. Maybe it's just me, but there are three ways you can get the car "back down." 1. Take your foot off the gas pedal. 2. Even more efficient, step on the break. 3. Probably less efficient, but no less effective, crash the car. All three work.
  • Travis combed his hair, staring into the mirror with fixed concentration. He was good-looking. Probably one of the best-looking guys in the school. He had dark brown hair, not so long that he looked like one of the dopers, not so short that he looked like one of the straights, the student council preppies. Five foot eight. Not bad for sixteen, and by the size of his hands and feet he hadn't stopped growing yet. Good eyes. Great eyes, actually. Gray-green and as cool as the Irish sea. He had read a book about F. Scott Fitzgerald once, and it said he had eyes as cold as the Irish sea. Travis liked that. He secretly liked his eyelashes, too, a black fringe, as long as a girl's. He had a good build, long-boned and lean and flat-stomached, and that was the reason he liked tight T-shirts. Kirk was taller, and had broader shoulders, but Travis thought his own build was as good as any in the school. A lot of girls thought so. A lot. I love this paragraph, so I had to transcribe it here in all its glory. I laughed, and laughed, and, oh, I laughed again.
  • On the plane, Travis takes his cat with him into the cabin and the guy next to him states his displeasure. Travis? "Yeah, well, I hear a lot of faggots hate cats."
  • Because Travis isn't popular at his new school (believe me, this is like the end of the world for him) he takes to smoking cigarettes unnoticed on the baseball field or "in the library." Call me crazy, but I think someone would notice if you were smoking in the library.
  • These damn suckers were making him doubt his looks. Travis notices, to his horror, that he has round ears and a pale face. He tries desperately to remember that he is a modern day Adonis...and I laugh and laugh some more.
  • "You must dress like your characters." She had it backward, his characters dressed like he did. Yeah, we in the business of being critical because we can call that self-insertion.
  • The editor asks Travis who he thinks would read his book and he replies: "Teenagers. Kids like me." He was sure they would because he'd read it and loved it. The fact that he's the author of said book has no bearing on this at all, I'm sure.
  • At one of Casey's horse shows, in which Travis accompanies her as a groom, he discovers that the rest of the girls (as, apparently, only girls ride horses at horse shows) think he looks like a "sleazy punk." Horrified, again, he runs to a mirror. Again. What does he tell himself? His hair is too long to look punk! What do hicks know anyway? He's so cool at home! Which is Cleveland, by the way. So...I wouldn't throw stones, Travis. I really wouldn't.
  • S.E. Hinton is obsessed with K's and hard C's. The names in this book: Kirk, Ken, Christopher, Kristen, Kelsey, Ms. Carmichael, Katherine Caroline Kencaide (Casey).
  • We get a lot of unwarranted comparisons between Ken and Achilles. Yes, Achilles from Greek mythology. I'm not sure where this comes from, especially since it's supposed to draw out this line of thought that Ken was young and pushed the envelope too when he was 16 and is now 37 (which means he is old) so he is therefore supposed to be the mentor to Travis's what? Patroclus? I really don't understand how Achilles could be anyone's mentor. He was insane. You know, with the rage?
Okay, the only reason I sort of liked this book is because I had the impression that S.E. Hinton was making fun of Travis along with me. Otherwise, I really wanted someone to walk up to Travis and kick him in the groin. Repeatedly.

Although, perhaps she's not making fun of him because, from her website:
S.E. Hinton on the book:
Taming The Star-Runner is a horse story, a love story, and a story of the different forms art can take. And some of the things that happen to Travis, who wrote his first book at sixteen, happened to me. But not all, Thank God.
Well, take from that what you will.

(In light of some pretty crazy rabid Taming the Star Runner fans -- who knew, right? -- I regret to inform you all that commenting on this post is now closed. If you want to take issue with my opinion, e-mail me. I know, I know, making anonymous, misspelled comments is cute and fun for everyone, but this is getting a little weird.)