Saturday, July 2, 2016
by Molly Gloss
In 1938, 19-year-old Bud Frazer leaves behind his parents and the Oregon ranch life he has always known, climbs on a southbound Greyhound bus bound for Hollywood, and meets Lily Shaw, who will be his friend for life.
Bud is determined to be movie stunt rider, and quickly learns that horses and stunt riders are considered cheap and disposable by movie folks.
There are always more horses that can be chased off a cliff or tripped up by wires, or ridden to exhaustion, and there are always more movie-cowboy-wannabees dumb enough to carry out the deeds for a few bucks and a chance to be seen on the silver screen.
Meanwhile, Lily experiences another side of the Hollywood scene: the seedy side of screen writing. Lily is determined to write, and write well ... and for many reasons, she doesn't fit in with the mostly-male writers of the time.
Bud's narrative voice is strong, calm, and believable. His account of his year in Hollywood -- and the time before that, back in Oregon -- reads like a memoir. Although the story is fiction, the characters and situations are carefully researched. The accounts of horrific abuse of horses for the amusement of moviegoers are based on true events, and these abuses continued until 1940.
Bud, however, leaves the action much sooner.
The story is quietly told, despite the hair-raising stunts performed by human and animal actors. Bud's grief (which precedes the first page, and is revealed in flashback chapters) carries the narrative without dragging it down. Bud's naive encounters with women add flashes of humor, but it is his fondness for Lily that keeps the sometimes-grim story from becoming overwhelmingly dismal.
Falling From Horses was the 2015 "Everyone READS" choice for Shoreline, Richmond Beach, and Lake Forest Park WA. The book lends itself to discussion, and is recommended for teen and adult readers.
The events may not have happened; still, the story is true. --R. Silvern
Aarene Storms, youth services librarian
Richmond Beach and Lake Forest Park Libraries, KCLS