Sep 25, 2008

A Summer of Horses: I have a headache now.

A Summer of Horses
by Carol Fenner
Published: 1989

I think I've fulfilled my horsey summer vacation book quota for my lifetime at this point.

Ten-year-old Faith has just one problem with learning to ride during her summer on a horse farm: horses terrify her. As Faith struggles to overcome her fear, she discovers new strengths in herself.

Faith and Gem have been shipped off to their mother's college friend for the summer, kicking both kids out of the house because she's recently given birth to twins and, God, it's so much easier having to take care of two kids rather than four and...wait. Guess this is another one of those foresight issues rearing its ugly head. Given that Faith is ten and Gem is a teenager, I imagine these twins are delightful accidents. So Faith and Gem are at the train station waiting on Beth, the college friend, while Faith whines about how she knows she could have helped out with the twins, but noooo, she's stuck at a train station waiting for some woman with her sister who stuffs her bra. Life sucks. Sort of. Then Beth trots up with her horse and buggy. This is received with some apprehension, but the girls get in and Beth trots them all back to the farm.

It's worth mentioning now that Faith thinks she's some sort of Dr. Doolittle. For instance, she feels animals speak to her and she can understand them. In a non-insane way. More like in an annoyingly confident and juvenile way. So when Faith troops into a paddock full of horses she doesn't know and they get hyper with her, Faith's swollen courage deflates rapidly. This whole acting stupid around large animals you don't know how to handle thing? Not a good idea, Faithy.

So since Faith is now frightened of horses (especially the big black appropriately called Thundercloud), although I have a feeling it's mostly just her ego being bruised by reality, she's a little discouraged about this learning to ride thing. When Beth gets her up on a horse, she sort of sucks. Adding insult to injury, Gem is fantastic. And she doesn't even like animals, you guys. How dare someone who doesn't pretend to speak to animals and expect their undying affection be good at telling one what to do. So Faith continues to suck at riding, Gem continues to shine, and Beth exhibits some astonishingly awful instruction skills. Her teaching style is yell, yell, yell, act exasperated, and then ignore the kids that don't react well to this. Needless to say, Faith and Beth aren't on the same wavelength. Mainly because Faith doesn't know what she's doing and Beth has no patience and is really no good at her job.

Eventually, Faith gets to the point where Beth feels she should canter, but she's royally failing at getting the horse to move faster than a trot. Beth, in an astonishing move, gets pissed about this so she grabs a crop and whacks the lazy horse on the ass. The horse loses it and canters off with Faith, who is obviously upset and has no idea what to do while Beth shouts instructions at her. Unable to follow Beth's instructions, Faith falls off the horse. Beth then basically reprimands her for not following her orders and tells her flat out that she fell because she didn't want to canter and accuses her of basically being a dope. Thankfully Faith doesn't take this lying down and snaps back at her before getting back on the horse, trots around in a circle, and then decides she never wants to ride a horse again. She tells this to Beth after a few days of ignoring lessons, and Beth basically agrees that she's a weakling with no competitive spirit.

After this, Faith gets involved with this kitten that she names Blackie Whiteface. Guess what the kitten looks like, you guys. Just guess. Anyway, the kitten really becomes Faith's while she's there and she's finally a little happier with her situation. Especially after they go to a show in Detroit and she meets this beautiful cowboy that initially she wants for herself. Yes, I find this remarkably distressing given that Faith is ten. Because she notices the cowboy looking at Beth, Faith decides that she's going to give the cowboy to Beth. As a present, you see. Because BETH NEEDS A MAN. A man who cooks. And cleans. And can lift heavy things, you see. Beth is basically a messy whirlwind who can't get her life together if it doesn't involve horses, so the girls decide she needs a husband who can do all the things she can't. God, that is the last thing any disheveled woman needs, I am telling you right now.

So Faith brazenly asks the cowboy (Ben Warren) to dinner and asks him to cook. really pushy when it comes right down to it. Man, she'll be a heart breaker when she's older. So Beth puts on a dress and wobbles around in high heels and Faith is distressed by this because she thinks Beth is more likely to break her ankles than get laid. At least, that's what Faith would be thinking if she was older. It's definitely what Gem is thinking (she refers to Beth as a "potential lover" so I am not far off the mark). So Ben cooks and they drink wine (in moderation, of course) and the two hit if off. Because Ben is a traveling horse show judge or something to that effect, he basically starts to live in Beth's front yard in his van. This is a horrible idea, because eventually the two start arguing because it is so blatantly obvious that he is a neat freak and she is perfectly happy letting the phone bill go until the service is cut off. This is a relationship doomed to failure.

In the middle of this, Faith learns to lounge horses and somehow learns how to communicate with them that way. Then Blackie Whiteface dies. This is tragic. I was actually touched...which I found rather shocking.

Moving on. After one of these fights, Ben decides he's had it and packs up his things (even his socks, so we know this is the most organized man on the planet). Beth very calmly goes out to the barn and gets Thundercloud and tears out of there all Joanna Campbell style. Thundercloud spooks, throws Beth, knocks Beth unconscious, and Faith has to save the day by getting on Thundercloud and racing to wave down Ben before he can van himself out of their lives forever. So the day is saved, only Beth has a broken collarbone and a fractured arm and is still arguing with Ben, who inexplicably decides to stay in a misguided attempt to organize her. Faith gets over her horse issues, and seems to have learned to jump all by herself by the end of the book.

  • Ye Gods, people. Ye Gods. It's their favorite exclamatory sentence and it drives me crazy.
  • It's pointed out that, ye Gods, no man would ever have Beth because she's independent and too willful and would not be a proper wife, or something. This upsets me to a great degree, especially considering the girls later on conclude that she needs a husband who cooks. Then her life will be complete. What does she get? A man who cooks and is organized and can't stand living with her because she's messy, so it's her fault they fight. Just, no.
  • There is mention of going to a disco. I just thought I'd give this a bullet point for the fun of it.
So that's it for A Summer of Horses. I liked it to a certain degree, although I think there's no way some of the language in this book would ever be found in the vocabulary of a normal ten-year-old kid.

I think I'll mix things up and read Riding Lessons next.


Molly said...

I loved this book as a kid. LOVED. Faith, Gem and Beth all bugged me, but fucking hell I loved the book for some reason. I have to skip over Blackie dying when I read it as an adult because it just breaks my heart.

I had a riding instructor like Beth. My first lesson with her, and my second in my life, she bitched me out for not keeping my heels down. I mean, she yelled and had a hissy fit and physically wrenched my feet into position. (I've had crappy joints most of my life - starting with having really stiff ankles at age three, so yeah, keeping my heels down isn't the easiest thing ever for me. Fucking bitch.) I didn't ride with her again until I was a teenager. At which point I was the best rider in the lesson instead of the worst, so she treated me like a teacher's pet. Sharon, wherever you are, I still fucking can't stand you.

Mara said...

I'm pretty glad I never had an instructor that took the yelling approach. I probably would have given up riding on the spot if I had. Unfortunately, my instructors were flakes, so my actual instruction in riding was short lived. Oh well.