by Barbara Esstman
Night Ride Home and In The Presence of Horses were published around the same time. Unfortunately for me I read In The Presence of Horses first, which did a fantastic job of turning me off of horse books for a long while. Therefore, I never got around to Night Ride Home. Also, I might have ignored it because it looked just a little depressing and if you have read the horror that is In The Presence of Horses, you might swear off books after that encounter. Seriously, I hated that book. I'll have to read it again. For, you know, the blog. And stuff.
Nora Mahler leads a perfect life. With her two teenage children and husband, she thrives on running the family horse farm on the banks of the Missouri River until Simon is killed in a riding accident. Neal sends the horses away, and when Nora refuses his orders to sell the farm, he moves to Chicago, taking Clea with him. Soon after, Ozzie Kline, a horse wrangler who has longed for Nora since they were teenage lovers, helps Nora and her mother rebuild their farm. Alongside Ozzie, Nora finds a happiness she never knew with her husband and wonders if she and Ozzie have another chance with each other, until Neal returns to claim what he considers his.
You know, I could rip this summary to shreds so easily. Basically, it reads like a summary of the book as told by someone who was given the basic premise before being told to write a summary. Nora doesn't lead a perfect life at the beginning of this book. She leads what others might suspect is a perfect life, only they would be completely wrong. The book is told from a series of first person perspectives: Nora, Neal (her husband), Clea (her daughter), Ozzie, and Maggie (Nora's mom) all occurring after Simon falls off of a horse and hits a rock, dying immediately. Everyone unravels instantly: Nora has an emotional meltdown, Neal shoots the horse in the head, Clea withdraws completely, Ozzie takes off, and Maggie...actually, Maggie is the only one that sees sense.
Because Neal is a self-absorbed asshole, and medical practices back in the 40s were iffy at best, he decides that the best course of action for Nora's grief is to a) drug the life out of her and b) shock therapy! He also decides that, while Nora is in a drugged up stupor, that it's really for the best to sell the farm and move to Chicago. Because he can't sell the farm without the signature of Nora or her mother, this is put on hold, but absolutely nothing stops him from selling all the horses and spiriting Clea off to Chicago. Perfect life, right? Man, if only I can get me some of that.
As you can probably deduce from the summary, Neal's plan is foiled by those gosh darn women doing what they damn well please, thereby ruining his life because Nora is no longer running around making Neal feel better about himself (if she ever did, because I really don't think she ever did, which was one of Neal's sticking points and why he kept acting like a toddler in the midst of a tantrum all the time), or whatever the hell it was Neal really wants. I have a feeling he wanted a subservient wife who baked cupcakes all day, taking time out of her busy baking schedule to either "take care" of her children or give him a blow job. I really have no idea what he was going for, but Nora never resembled that image in his head, so really he just screwed himself over. Long story short on Neal: he's the kind of guy who pushes sex on people who may be, you know, asleep. Charming.
Anyway, you're not supposed to like Neal, and rest assured I didn't. Nora eventually gets up her nerve to divorce him after Ozzie comes back from gallivanting around Canada in attempts to ignore what's going on at the ranch. Ozzie, in comparison to Neal, is a sweetheart. He gets Nora back into the horse boarding business and finds a gray mare that can replace the one Neal randomly shot in the head. The two have a history, but because Nora's father never liked Ozzie their relationship did a nosedive when her father died. I don't necessary buy this logic, but it's suggested Nora dumps Ozzie for Neal after her father (another wonderful piece of trash) kicks it, like she was obligated to finally do what her dad would have wanted, after several years of going to extremes in pissing him off. Actually, yeah, I don't buy that at all.
Then there's Clea having a budding romance with some guy. I skimmed over her for the most part. And Maggie's sections basically involved her musing to herself over how different she is now, going from abused wife to outspoken woman, etc. She nags Nora about divorce until Nora agrees, giving Ozzie the opening he needs. Then there is sex in a stall. Only it's not exactly romance novel sex in that it's glossed over and didn't make me laugh out loud.
In short, it's not In The Presence of Horses. It's slightly depressing, there is a lot of time spent on backstory, yet again we're told how often and intensely men suck, but it's hopeful at the end. I did skim through a lot of it, though. So gripping it most certainly was not. Interesting...it sort of was. A must read? Probably not. You won't miss anything if you keep passing it on the bookshelves.