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The Sale of Pricilla Loosefoot
Half Broke Horses: A Biographical Novel by Jeannette Walls, 2016 Update for America in Chains
© 2013 James LaFond
2016 Update: I just stumbled upon this on the backend. At the bottom of the review I mention a woman named Pricilla Loosefoot, who the author's grandmother met in the desert around 1909. Priscilla had been sold as a slave and had escaped. This also brings to mind the many cases of American Indian women being sterilized at reservation clinics up until the 1960s. Also of interest along these lines is the current phenomena of missing native women in Canada.
Last year I read The Glass Castle, perhaps the best memoir ever written. It was the story of a girl struggling through a strange childhood and coming of age in horrendous economic circumstances. [See Surviving Bad Parents with Grace on this blog.]
This year I was lucky enough to get a hold of the prequel, selected as one of the top ten books of 2009 by The New York Times Book Review, and for once I find myself in line with establishment geeks…
Half Broke Horses
A True-Life Novel
Jeannette Walls, Scribner, 2009, NY, 272 pages
For a writer who produces a seminal work, nothing is harder than equaling or surpassing the spark of genius in her rear view mirror. It is even less likely that a change of format will do the trick. Ms. Walls took up the challenge of writing an intimate account of her family matriarch’s remarkable life, by penning a first-person novel.
The story of Lily Casey Smith, the author’s maternal grandmother, is told in an introspective style reminiscent of Gene Wolfe [arguably the best sci-fi novelist]. The tale spans from roughly 1900 though the post WW II years. As an intimate look at the American Southwest and Chicago of the period it is excellent. As a look into the life of a young lady finding her way in the world in the age of the women’s suffrage movement it is superb. As a prequel to The Glass Castle it is better than what readers of that memoir could have hoped for. In fact, I wish I had read Half Broke Horses first.
The things that worked the best about The Glass Castle: the deep thematic title; the sparse use of family photos in just the right place; the 3-page chapters; and the unique viewpoint of a girl and young woman, are all found here, in this haunting book: a first-person novel and a third-person memoir all in one.
I have a number of female friends who take the modern woman’s lot for granted, and a number of male friends who seem to think there was once a paradise called patriarchal tradition shared by men and women since time immemorial, until feminism ruined the domestic world. Both of those sets of people need to read this book. Slow down when you get to Priscilla Loosefoot. Then stop and consider her socially sanctioned 20th Century plight. The author’s writing style favors a fast read, balanced out by the short chapter length which permits time for the correction of pop-culture and traditional misconceptions to sink in as you turn the page to see what Lily gets into next.
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