Critical Assessment

“Like most good New Journalism adherents, Walls offers this account in first person, completely putting her readers in Lily’s position and telling the stories of Half Broke Horses in a conversational tone that makes you feel like you’re sitting on  a porch somewhere with a cool drink and an even cooler companion. The stories during the Depression – when Lily gave birth to her children and times everywhere were beyond tough – make expected and indelible marks on the reader, perhaps creating the most impact in all the book’s different eras.

“However, the first Christmas lights on the ranch, the one-room schoolhouse in which Lily taught, and her visceral response to hearing the news about Hiroshima click with the reader in a way that makes you feel as if you are living through these times yourself. . . .

Half Broke Horses is that rare thing – an inspired look back that raises a real-life heroine back from the dead with style, wit and determination, and makes a spot for her in American history. A real ripping yarn!”

Jana Siciliano, “Half Broke Horses: A True-Life Novel,” Bookreporter, January 22, 2011. 

First Excerpt

“As for clothes, I flatly refused to wash them. I made sure we all bought loose-fitting clothes that let us do squats and windmill our arms – none of that tight buttoned-up stuff like my mother favored. We wore our shirts till they got dirty, then we put them on backward and wore them until that side got dirty, then we wore them inside out, then inside out backward. We were getting four times more wear out of each shirt than persnickety folks did. When the shirts reached the point where Jim was joking about them scaring the cattle, I’d take the whole pile into Seligman and pay by the pound to have them all steam-cleaned.

“Levi’s we didn’t wash at all. They shrank too much, and it weakened the threads. So we wore them and wore them until they were shiny with mud, manure, tallow, cattle slobber, bacon fat, axle greece, and hoof oil – and then we wore them some more. Eventually, the Levi’s reached a point of grime sturation where they couldn’t get any dirtier, where they had the feel of oilskin and had become not just waterproof but briar-proof, and that was when you knew you had really broken them in. When Levi’s reached that degree of conditioning, they were sort of like smoke-cured ham or aged bourbon, and you couldn’t pay a cowboy to let you wash his.”

n314816Second Excerpt

“Even though I couldn’t sell the kids on Santa Claus, they were beside themselves with excitement about the Christmas lights. We all drove up into the hills and cut down a short pine that the kids picked out. Jim dug a hole in the front yard and we set it in that, tamping down the dirt and stringing the lights around its branches. All afternoon Rosemary and Little Jim danced around the tree and shouted at the sun to hurry up and set.

“Once it grew dark, we called the cowboys out from the bunkhouse, and Jim pulled the hearse up next to the tree. He opened the hood, attached a cable to the battery, and as we all stood in a circle around the tree, he raised the cable and the light cord above his head, and with a flourish, brought them together. The tree burst into color and we all gasped at the red, yellow, green, white, and blue lights boldly glowing in the cold night, the only lights for miles around in the immense darkness of the range.”