Monday, October 27, 2014

Ghost Horse by Thomas McNeely (3.5 stars)

About Ghost Horse

Publisher: Gival Press

Set amidst the social tensions of 1970’s Houston, Ghost Horse tells the story of eleven-year-old Buddy Turner’s shifting alliances within his fragmented family and with two other boys—one Anglo, one Latino—in their quest to make a Super-8 animated movie. As his father’s many secrets begin to unravel, Buddy discovers the real movie: the intersection between life as he sees it and the truth of his own past. In a vivid story of love, friendship, and betrayal, Ghost Horse explores a boy’s swiftly changing awareness of himself and the world through the lens of imagination.

Praise for Ghost Horse

“An elegy for a lost father, an unforgettable fable of the power of art, Ghost Horse weaves a singular spell, captivating the reader and never letting go.”—Adam Johnson, author of The Orphan Master’s Son, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction

“In Ghost Horse, his excellent debut novel, Thomas McNeely skillfully offers up the dark mysteries of the adult world through the eyes of a child. Wise, insightful, and exquisitely written, it lays bare the heartbreak of family life and lost friendship against the back drop of class and racial difference. Ghost Horse is that rare fictional rendering that truly illuminates real life.” —Rishi Reddi, author of Karma and Other Stories, winner of the L. L. Winship / PEN New England Award

“Thomas McNeely is a beautiful writer. I’ve read drafts of this book over the last ten years and I’ve been waiting all that time for the finished product. This is an incredible book about love and family and growing up. But mostly it’s about the mysteries of the human heart.” —Stephen Elliott, editor of The Rumpus; author of Happy Baby and The Adderall Diaries

“Thomas H. McNeely’s moving, darkly beautiful debut novel, Ghost Horse, turns the emotional messiness of family life into something gripping and mysterious. One boy’s coming-of-age in 1970s Texas becomes the deeply compelling story of all who have ever shouldered an unwanted secret. McNeely is an astoundingly gifted writer exploring—to great effect—the vagaries and surprises of desire.” —Daphne Kalotay, author of Russian Winter and Sight Reading

“In this dark, swirling, atmospheric novel Thomas McNeely brings to life the world of Buddy Turner and his deeply troubled parents and grandparents during a few desperate months in the mid-70s. Even as Buddy struggles to keep faith with his film about the ghost horse and his collaborator, Alex, the adults around him keep changing shape, keep lying. I know of few other novels that so powerfully evoke the chaos and powerlessness of childhood, even fewer that do so with such power and brilliance. Ghost Horse is a wonderful and compulsively readable debut.”—Margot Livesey, author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy and The House on Fortune Street, winner of the L.L. Winship / PEN New England Award for Fiction

“As if Cormac McCarthy and Denis Johnson teamed up to write a 1970’s Texas YA novel that went off the rails somewhere – in a very, very good way.” —Lisa Peet, LibraryJournal


Buddy is a boy torn between two parents and all their issues. His escape is focusing on a movie project with one of his friends. But creative endeavors can't hold back the troubles in his family and society in general. 

So much is right about this novel. For instance, Buddy is an intricate character who will find his way into the reader's heart. He is struggling, and his pain jumps off the pages. Then, there are his interactions with kids his own age, which showcases both society at the time and general coming-of-age woes. All of this is told in heartbreaking detail. It's dark in a way that rings true and pulls the reader in.

But I also must say, I found myself struggling to read it. Not just because of the raw honesty, but the author's style in presenting it. There's not enough dialogue and too many rushed scenes (and overheard conversations) which took away from some of the emotional punch, although there's still plenty.

To be fair, it's not meant to be an easy read. While I felt connected to Buddy and his struggles, I felt somehow removed from both of his parents and their real stories. I especially wanted more background and character transparency for the involved grandparents.

Still, I would recommend to readers who love literary fiction and all that entails--dark, intense story; heartbreaking revelations; emotional connection to struggling characters; and thought-provoking, underlying themes and symbolism. It's the kind of a book an English class or scholarly book club would have a field day with.

Note: I love literary fiction, but it relies heavily on connection. For some reason, I was having a hard time staying connected to the story. Connection is highly subjective.

Rating: 3.5 stars

About Thomas McNeely

A native of Houston, Texas, Thomas H. McNeely has received fellowships from the Wallace Stegner Program at Stanford University, the Dobie Paisano Program at the University of Texas at Austin, and the National Endowment for the Arts, as well from the MacDowell Colony, the Helene Wurlitzer Foundation, and the Vermont Studio Center. His fiction has appeared in The Atlantic, Ploughshares, The Virginia Quarterly Review, and Epoch, and has been anthologized in Algonquin Books’ Best of the South and What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers. His non-fiction has appeared in Ninth Letter and The Rumpus. Ghost Horse, winner of the 2013 Gival Press Novel Award, is his first book. He teaches in the Emerson College Honors Program and the Stanford Online Writing Studio, and lives with his wife and daughter in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Find out more about Thomas at his website.

Thanks to TLC for my review copy.

Note: I received a complimentary copy for review purposes. A positive review was not requested or guaranteed; the opinions expressed are my own.

Please visit other stops on the Ghost Horse blog tour page


Thomas McNeely said...

Thank you very much for your review! If possible, would you please consider posting it on Goodreads?
Sincerely, Tom McNeely

Tia Bach said...

Absolutely! I always give it 24 hours before posting. It should be up tomorrow.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for being a part of the tour and for your thoughtful review.