Falling from Horses: A Novel

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A Year in Reading: Karen Joy Fowler

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I’ve been looking forward to the publication of Molly Gloss’s wonderful Falling From Horses ever since I read the galley some months back, and this month it has finally arrived. While I waited, I returned to some of Gloss’s earlier novels – The Dazzle of Day and Wild Life, in particular. Although her more recent The Hearts of Horses was widely read, Gloss remains an author who has never gotten her full due. I have often wondered if any part of this is because she is so firmly a writer of the American West, so clearly, even when writing fantasy or science fiction, a reader of Westerns. When I read Gloss, I notice how seldom other novelists handle work — physical labor — in their books simply because she does this so routinely and so well.

She is surely one of the most thoughtful and most nuanced writers to rise from that tradition, always operating both on the level of the physical — landscape, work, the wild — but also cognizant of the mythical and problematic hold of the frontier on the American imagination. In Falling From Horses both of these are explicitly addressed — much of the novel takes place in Los Angeles during the making of the early Hollywood Westerns — and seldom has the reality and the dream been so smartly and effectively combined.

I suspect that few writers would survive the back-to-back reading of their works as well as Molly Gloss does. Her prose is meticulous, her characters distinct, her plotting unforced, her stories simultaneously iconic and completely natural in tone and incident. I usually cry at some point while reading them — that’s just an added bonus.

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