Painted Horses by Malcolm Brooks
I read this book for the bookgroup I participate in at my favorite local indie. The cover had me...not so sure this would be my jam. This book made me realize just what kind of prejudices I have against watercolor covers on books. Especially watercolors with expansive vistas and majestic creatures. BLECH BORING BLAH
And I tried to like it. I just could never really get into it. And I was pleasantly surprised to learn that most of my fellow bookgroupers felt the same way. The love story between the two main characters seemed nonexistent for most of the story and then completely rushed at the end. In the span of a day, we're supposed to believe that these two strangers would essentially risk their lives and livelihoods for each other. We ain't talkin' Miss Capulet and Master Montague here, yo. The villians in the story seemed like cardboard characterures. The only saving grace was the beautiful descrption of the land... the colors, the textures of the gorgeous Montana plains (still have literallly no desire to go there, but can understand why it's the inspiration for so much art). I was initially very excited about the architecture storyline, specifically surrounding the Londinium establishment. And then I was disappointed.
In the end it just read to me as something that started as a love song to the Montana countryside and turned into a one dimensional poorly executed romance. And there is fantastic romance out there... this isn't it.
But if you love horses and the beauty of the midwest, this might be for you. That is definitely the area in which this work succeeded. I just feel like a deeper dive had it completely fall apart.
In the mid-1950s, America was flush with prosperity and saw an unbroken line of progress clear to the horizon, while the West was still very much wild. In "Painted Horses," now in paperback, a dauntless woman travels into that untamed landscape in an adventure that will change her life. Catherine Lemay is a young archaeologist who's come to Montana with a huge task before hera canyon as deep as the devil's own appetites. Working ahead of a major dam project, she has one summer to prove nothing of historical value will be lost in the flood. From the moment she arrives, nothing is what she expects. John H is a former mustanger with an intuitive genius for breaking horses. A veteran of the U.S. Army's last mounted cavalry campaign, he lives a fugitive life, driven by pursuit of one last wild thing. John H inspires Catherine to see beauty in the stark landscape, and her heart opens to more than just the vanished past. "Painted Horses" sings a love song to the horseman's vanishing way of life and reminds us that love and ambition, tradition and progress, often make strange bedfellows.
Extraordinary . . . Surprising and satisfying . . . Brooks has fashioned compelling and sympathetic protagonists. . . . John Horphan, rail rider, cowboy, World War II veteran, Paris artist, canyon hermitin particular, has a backstory that is both intimate and sweeping in a way that may remind readers of Michael Ondaatje's "The English Patient." . . . "Painted Horses" is, after all, one of those big, old-fashioned novels where the mundane and the unlikely coexist. Kent Black, "Boston Globe"
Malcolm Brooks novel has the hard thrill of the West, when it was still a new world, the tenderness of first love and the pain of knowledge. This book is a gripping, compulsively readable page-turner. Amy Bloom, author of "Away"