In the short story "Wild Horses" by Rick Bass, how does Karen get over her grief of the loss of her fiance?

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carol-davis eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Everyone hears stories about a person’s fiancé dying the day before the wedding.  No one believes that it will happen to her.  In “Wild Horses,” by Rick Bass, Karen really experiences this terrible loss.  Her grief is palpable with her anger directed toward Henry’s [her dead fiancé] best friend who saw him die. 

After a bachelor party, Henry and his friends go out to a cliff above a lake.  Henry dives off the cliff, and he is  never seen or heard from again. His body was never discovered. 

The narration is third person point of view with a limited omniscient narrator. The story takes place in the northwest near to tree logging.  

The theme of the story pertains to the struggle to survive the deep grief and guilt that the people who are left behind when someone dies.  Every person handles his/her pain in different ways. Inferentially, the two main characters learn that it is best to share the sorrow with someone else. 

Karen was twenty-six and already has been engaged twice and married once. Her husband had run away with another woman.  She really loved Henry, but now he was gone. Sydney, Henry’s best friend, tries to help Karen.  He does feel that he should have done something to save Henry even though he and the other friends dove in and searched everywhere to try to find him.

“I’m sorry,” he called out.  “But I can’t bring him back!” He waited for her to answer, but could only hear her sobs. 

Sydney, a horse breaker and trainer, also grieves for his best friend.  He carries his guilt with him wherever he goes; but particularly, he feels it the most when he is with Karen.  Sydney knows that he is falling in love with Karen, who is not ready to consider any kind of relationship.

To get her mind off her troubles, Karen works with a veterinarian.  She and the vet travel around the area taking care of large animals.  Recently, they went to a logging camp where an old mule had hurt his knee.  The mule pulled the logs up the slope.  The doctor drained his horribly swelled knee and gave him some pain pills.  Eventually, Karen rescues the mule by buying a Clydesdale and trading the horse for the old mule.     

Sydney breaks his bones regularly in his job.  Within six months, he broke his leg twice.  As he spends more time with Karen, Sydney knows that he wants Karen in his life.  Many times at the end of the day, Karen would take her shower, come out and Sydney would rub her neck and brow. She would fall asleep, and he would wake her up and help her to bed. 

As time goes by, Karen feels less anger toward Sydney although she seems to be settling into her grief. It really was not Sydney’s fault; yet, Karen is comfortable with the fact that Sydney should have stopped Henry or saved him.

Eventually, Karen relents and reaches out and squeezes his hand. Finally, Karen was letting go and giving in to her feelings that she had for Sydney. She even calls him one night just to say “hello” and “goodnight.”

In the end, Sydney tells Karen how much he misses Henry.  She says that she knows and that she will help him. The tables have turned.  She holds his hand as they sit on the porch.

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