Aug 2, 2012

The Head and Not The Heart

The Head and Not The Heart
by Natalie Keller Reinert
2011  
Horses have always been Alex’s obsession. Their presence has defined her life: all her choices, from her love-life to her career, have been made with horses as her priority. But the horse business isn’t for the sentimental, and it’s growing harder for her to tamp down her emotions and think about the horses with her head and not her heart.

When their racing stable suffers a loss, she and Alexander, her partner and teacher, slowly begin to fall apart. A chance find of a long-lost horse sends Alex alone to New York City, and she wonders if this is the sign she’s been waiting for. Is it time to leave it all behind and start fresh?
Everyone say hello to Natalie. She runs the Retired Racehorse Blog, a place where most of us could probably lose hours of our lives. Natalie is steeped in horses, so much so that her knowledge flows over in her debut novella, The Head and Not The Heart. Horse fiction realism, thy name is Natalie.

But let's get down to business. The Head and Not The Heart has a basic premise: horses. You love 'em and you hate 'em, am I right? They suck you in and keep you there, held hostage for years of your life, never able to do simple things to the point that you find yourself envious of people who have a three day weekend in which they do nothing but sit around marathoning Heartland all day (I am guilty. I am so, so guilty). So, how awesome would it be to break free and not be around horses all the time? Pretty freaking horrible, that's what. God, how can you even ask that question?

Equiholics are in deep. There's really no saving them.

So we have Alex. She manages the racing stable she shares with her older mentor/live-in boyfriend, when their favorite horse is injured and subsequently destroyed. This alone might not have been catastrophic, but it comes on the heels of the death of their absolute favorite, Red Erin, two years previous, and now they're really in a funk. Now her boyfriend is sequestering himself in his man cave and Alex can only dream of a future where she's forced to smell the gut-churning scent of lube mixed with manure forever. Being only twenty-five, Alex is starting to have second thoughts about her career choices. There's still time, Alex! Break free!

Dumb luck presents Alex with that option: television offers up the missing half-brother of Red Erin and she is quickly dispatched to New York to meet with this colt's trainer. While in New York, she is further tempted. She could be a writer. She could live in Brooklyn. She could hang out with hipsters and listen to indie music and be ironic all the time. But there would be no horses, and I don't know if anyone pointed this out to Alex while she was there but New York is fricking cold in winter.

Meanwhile, there is the new horse to consider. Will he be able to lure Alex back to an unforgiving horseman's life after she's sampled Brooklyn's nightlife and yelled at strangers about horses? Will Alex fall for him like a twelve-year-old with a chestnut horse and yell screw you and your bar scene, Brooklyn! as she hauls out of there with a horse trailer?

Well, I won't spoil you. But it goes without saying that this debut is bursting with realism that any equiholic will adore. The details are what make the book come alive and flesh out what is essentially a simple story about a young woman questioning her future. On the flip side, it is still a debut and it falls into a few common pits that debuts always seem to fall into. It repeats itself and waxes on in areas you wish it wouldn't, because therein lies the encouragement to skip to the good stuff -- the details, the action, the voice. These sometimes get lost in the fray of heavy inner monologue, which is common in first-person narratives. But it's 100% horses, and when the book turns on the detail no horse person in the audience (and I imagine they will all be horse people here) will care about the rest.

Solid little debut, Natalie Keller Reinert. Tighten up your craft and I'll be seeing you next time.

The Head and Not The Heart is available in print and Kindle at Amazon.

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