The Horse Whisperer: A Review

The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans is a book of loss, pain, love and healing. It's a book that I had read as a teenager and wept at the end of the book and that left me bewildered and devastated by what seemed to be an anti-love-conquers-all message. On a whim, I had seen the DVD while looking for a movie to watch with my hubby this weekend and talked him into watching it with me since I hadn't seen the movie or read the book since I was in high school. He grudgingly relented and fell asleep near the end of this surprisingly long movie. After watching the movie I remembered how moved I'd been by the book and decided to revisit it to see if it still would affect me in the same way. In many ways it did and in other ways it fell flat.

The Horse Whisperer is about the many different relationships that intertwine in people's lives. It starts with a horrific accident that causes the death of a girl and her horse, and leaves her friend and her horse maimed. The girl, Grace, loses a leg, and her horse, Pilgrim, loses all confidence in himself and the world around him. Grace's mother, Annie, is blunt and fierce. She is an ask-questions-later type of woman who acts when she feels helpless, and so when she sees that she's losing her daughter to a deep depression, she focuses her attention on a problem that seems easier to fix, Pilgrim. Her research leads her to a man named Tom Booker, a horse whisperer famous for being able to calm crazy horses. In a decision that permanently changes all lives involved, she leaves her husband behind, whose relationship with her was already strained after the many painful miscarriages they'd suffered together when trying for a second child, and drives Grace and Pilgrim from New York to Montana to have Tom do his magic on Pilgrim.

What remained as powerful as my memory of the book were the strength of the characters and your attachment to them, as well as the complexity of their relationships to each other. I enjoyed the characters and felt intimate with them, as if they were my friends, and other than one antagonizing character whose only purpose seems to be to set the climatical ending into motion, I liked all the characters in the book. The romance that begins between Tom and Annie was sweetly done, though sometimes corny and overdone, but it was enjoyable to read.

However, I was surprised at how subpar the writing was. I know I was only in high school when I read it, but I don't remember even noticing the writing, good or bad. This reading, however, sometimes I was distracted by the writing. Evans seemed to try too hard sometimes to be profound and it came off confusing or just plain corny sometimes:
And Annie leaned back her head and closed her eyes and thought, there is nothing but this. No other time nor place nor being than now and here and him and us. And no earthly point in calculating consequence or permanence or right or wrong, for all, all else, was as nothing to the act. It had to be and would be and was. (pp 386-387, mass paperback)
I mean, seriously? What is that paragraph? It was just too much. Also, while I'm not totally opposed to being blunt about sex, sometimes Evans was so graphic that I felt like I was reading a cheesy romance novel, which I do think this book is more than that.

My last quip about that book is that I thought the ending (the same one that had devastated my poor, over-romantic, over-emotional heart as a teenager) was just horrible - both in the movie and in the book. Neither worked at all with the characters! In the movie, Annie leaves Tom behind even though he made her feel "home" for the first time and she couldn't live without him. Bullshit, if their love was that profound then there is no way she could exist, even across the country, and not be with him. She would have gone back to him.

In the book it was much worse (spoiler alert for anyone who wants to read the book), after Grace finds out about her mother and Tom's affair, she rides off in a craze, only to have to be saved by Tom (of course!) where Tom lets himself be killed because he knows Annie could never leave her husband because she couldn't tell Grace what she was doing after all she'd been through. So since he can't live without Annie, he just lets himself be killed by a wild horse, in front of Grace who they're all trying to emotionally protect supposedly, even though now Grace already knows about the affair so half the battle of telling her and of Annie leaving her husband is already conveniently taken care of. What I don't buy is that its not in Tom's character at all to let himself be killed, more so, he purposefully puts himself in the line of the horse's hooves trying to be killed. It wasn't like the horse was killing him and he just gave up, no, he basically was committing suicide, which doesn't go with Tom's go with the flow, let things happen as they should philosophy. And how was that sacrifice helpful to anybody? Instead of dealing with her parents divorcing, but still having them both and since she already had loved Tom once, giving her the chance to love him again as a father figure, Grace now has to deal with the guilt that her reckless actions caused Tom's death, which will forever leave her mother's heart maimed and all the people that his death hurt. Hmm, yeah, that seems sooo much better for Grace's emotional well-being. Bullshit. At first I thought it was just the romantic in me that thought it made more sense for Tom to get injured enough that Grace feels guilt for her actions and is able to step back and look at the situation more objectively and is more accepting, and that Annie and Tom end up together because that's what was meant to be. Not that there wouldn't be pain to contend with, but it'd be manageable and it'd pass. But the more I thought about it, the book was leading up to that conclusion and with the characters as they are, its the natural progression of what would happen. What seemed to happen was that Nicholas Evan's leaned towards the over-dramatic (which seems to be his nature) and had to go for the big death to play with his readers' emotions. And his explanation of this ending?
Well, although Tom Booker is, in every respect, a real character, there is an important mythological aspect to him and to the story. He is, if you like, an immortal, the redemptive angel, the man in the white hat. There is a rule about such characters: when their work is done, they have to move on. They cannot hang around and 'mix it' with the mortals. For Annie and Grace to be free to get on with their lives, for the healing process to be properly complete, the healer-angel figure has to move on. Of course, he will live on forever in their hearts -- and in the new child that is born at the end of the story.
First of all, I can see how he was set up to be a bit mystical before Annie met him, but it definitely didn't come off that way in the book. You get to be in his head too much to see how human he is and see his past mistakes and his feelings, so whatever Evans was trying to do just didn't work out and therefore the ending didn't work at all, which is a shame. Overall I found the book enjoyable, though far less so then when I was younger and now I can see the many holes in the story. The characters do stay with you and how could you not love calm and confident Tom Booker. In an embarrassing way, I also find Robert Redford sexy, even if he's old as fuck. Its that same calm confidence that you love about Tom... guess Redford cast himself pretty well for the role of Tom Booker.

I was tempted to give this book 4 stars for sentimental reasons, but I just can't do it, so 3 stars it gets.


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