Book Talk: “Half Broke Horses” by Jeannette Walls

Unlike everyone else in my book group, I didn’t first read “The Glass Castle.”  Instead of reading “Half Broke Horses” to explain the first book, I read it, the story of the grandmother, first.  It’s not that I insist on chronology, but they read “The Glass Castle” during the school year and I can’t keep up with book club while balancing pta and piano lessons. 

I was incredibly struck by the main character, the author’s grandmother, Lily Casey Smith.  Born in the same century as I, her life could not have been more different from the life I know.  She was born in a mud dugout on the side of a river.  When she was fifteen years old she took a month-long journey on horseback for her first teaching job.  She spent most of her life without indoor plubming or electricity.  She also felt she was clearly better off for her experiences.

I found it interesting, after finishing the book, to reflect on the reasons she, her mother, and her daughter had gotten married.  Her mother married her father around the turn of the 20th century, and did so thinking she was raising her lot in life to marry a landowner.  She married when she found someone with whom she would be equal, and they worked side-by-side their entire lives.  Her daughter, headstrong, impulsive, and artistic, married someone whom she found exciting; a reason that retrospect often tells us wasn’t strong.  It made me think of my generation, one removed from that, and why we chose to marry.  Our world is so different from that of a hundred years ago when women married men based primarily on the material lives they would provide.  Certainly Lily Casey Smith was an anomaly of her time, but I’m sure many women during her era were looking to find their own footing.  As our society evolved and included more conveniences, then women starting looking for more fun and excitement in their marriages and less for traditional stability.

Best quote of the book:  “She might not have turned out like you planned, but that don’t mean she turned out wrong.”  Isn’t that exactly why we read?  We read to learn about different people, different lives, and to find the good in them.  I’m not explaining it well, but that line particularly resonated with me.

What struck me most in this story was the concept of happiness.  I don’t think Mrs. Smith once asked herself if she is happy.  She worked hard and found great satisfaction in her tasks, and she certainly chose tasks she knew she could accomplish well.  She made wise choices, but then she dedicated her life to doing things.  She didn’t take the time to stop and ask herself if she was happy, and she suffered no existential stupor of thought.  She simply lived her life and devoted her whole self to it.  Therein lies, certainly, one of the keys to happiness. 

Stop worrying about whether you’re happy and just live your life.  It’s a good lesson for us all.

5 thoughts on “Book Talk: “Half Broke Horses” by Jeannette Walls

  1. Two great things I take away from just your review. Just because things don’t turn out like we hope they will, doesn’t mean they’ve turned out bad. There is good in everything! And, if we stop worrying about if we have enough and just do all we can, we will actually find happiness on the way.

    Thanks for helping me out!

  2. When you say, “Our world is so different from that of a hundred years ago when women married men based on the lives they would provide,” do you mean that women no longer look to men as providers when making the decision to marry them? Because I’m pretty certain it’s still a consideration for a lot of women. 🙂

    Maybe in a different way than it would have been 100 years ago…but still.

    1. No Karen, I don’t believe that women no longer to look to men as providers, but I believe that the modern woman has considerably more options in choosing a mate, choosing a career, and choosing the life she’d like to live. One hundred years ago it was get married or be the spinster aunt in the corner (as described in the book — of course every situation is different.) These days women can make a very rich and full life without ever marrying.

      I’ll go back and edit the text this afternoon to be more clear. I can always count on you for finding where my writing was rushed and therefore not as clear as it needed to be. Thank you for being my quality control.

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