The Lover of Horses

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

THE LOVER OF HORSES is the well-known poet Tess Gallagher’s first collection of short stories, and in it she proves herself as adept at fiction as she is at poetry. As one would expect in such a premiere effort, many of the stories are apparently autobiographical, concerned with a young woman’s coming of age in the American Northwest. The remainder of the stories are largely realistic depictions of contemporary middle-class life.

Among the most successful stories in the collection are those in the first group, especially “A Pair of Glasses,” which tells of a school girl’s vain attempt to be fitted with a pair of eyeglasses. Also worth mentioning is “Desperate Measures,” a portrait of a teenage girl’s friendship with a glamorous and unavailable older man. Both of these stories seek to describe the process of maturation by sharply pitting the adult world against the ever-changing world of the young person.

The most noteworthy stories of the second group deal with married couples in a state of flux. In “The Wimp,” a family crisis leads a woman to a new appreciation of her pacifist husband. “Turpentine” tells the story of a married woman whose brush with psychic experience forces her to question the worth of her marriage. “King Death” deals with the eerie encounter between a married couple and a homeless alcoholic.

Without question, the best piece in the collection is “Girls,” the sensitively told story of an old woman’s visit to a girlhood friend. Ada, the protagonist, finds that after a separation of forty-three years, her friend Esther, disabled by a stroke, does not remember her. The story provides an appropriate conclusion to a book whose primary theme is the inconstancy of human relationships.