Nor is the journey you will take while reading Painted Horses (Grove Atlantic, NY, 2014). The opening drops you smack dab in the middle of backstory that unfolds in real time—the smell of the ancient muck of an archaeological dig in London rises up from the page even as the female protagonist sinks her toes into the mire. In a deft literary turn to the West, we find her suddenly disembarking a train in Miles City, Montana, wandering down a muddy path and coming face-to-painted face with a tethered war horse. Enter John H, and a new female protagonist. She was a loyal horse but also a captive mustang. At that instant, I was tethered to the novel, eager for the round-about ride.
The Story Is the Thing (Pen-L Publishing, AR, 2014), also requires a dexterous reader who enjoys navigating a winding path. You’ll meet Uncle Bill, an old man riding a stocky bay horse, his face weathered by the decades, his eyes studying tracks on the dusty trail. The next chapter leads us to the daughter of Bill’s ranch boss three days after old Bill’s funeral. Within minutes, Katy has the squat wood-burning stove in the ranch house burning, the teapot hissing, and the pewter urn holding Bill’s ashes on a bookshelf. He has left her a stack of yellow pads on which he meant to write only the truth of the previous summer, but somehow a far more complicated story finds its way from his arthritic hands elegantly onto the pages.
NOTES: In 2012, Amy Hale Auker won the Women Writing the West Willa Award for her nonfiction book Rightful Place (Texas Tech University). Malcolm Brooks received a 4-star review from USA Today for Painted Horses, also a Barnes and Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection.