Harper, $6.99, ISBN 0-06-058027-5
Contemporary Fiction, 2004 (Reissue)
I don’t really get the whole “horses and me run free – FREE!” thing so I really shouldn’t have picked up Sara Gruen’s Riding Lessons, especially when it isn’t even marketed as a romance novel. It’s written in first person and it’s more suitably classified as women’s fiction. But there’s no stopping an impulse buy when it hits me, alas, and even more unfortunate, this story is more annoying than inspiring.
Many of the problems in this story arise from the fact that the heroine Annemarie Zimmer allows a riding accident that killed her horse Harry when she was eighteen as an excuse for her to wallow in self-pity and actually not doing anything to help herself twenty years later. A catalogue of tedious whining and passive hand-wringing is not my idea of a fun story, but that’s what this story is.
Annemarie, for example, is quite surprised when her husband wants a divorce from her. But upon reflection, she decides that she doesn’t really love him after all! But at the same time, she refuses to even answer his emails or try to work out the divorce because she prefers to wallow in self-pity and hurt rather than to extricate herself out of her mess. She also has problems with her parents who never understand her decision to leave the family business of horse-breeding and horse-riding, but she doesn’t even try to talk to them. Instead, she plays passive-aggressive games with them and then lament that they can’t read her mind. She deals the same hand to her daughter Eva. Everything is about poor Annemarie, it seems.
At the same time Annemarie often sabotages her own life. In this story, her father gets the Disease of the Week thing that forces her to return to the family horse ranch in New Hampshire. Annemarie soon falls into a routine of training a horse that can rival Harry in her affections as well as trying to decide between a vet and a horse trainer when it comes to bestowing her affections to. Yet along the way I am subjected to Annemarie behaving in really messed-up ways, from minor things like trying to cook when she can’t to major things like getting so self-absorbed with her own problems that she lets the problems of the ranch pile up. “Act first, regret very loudly later” seems to be Annemarie’s way of dealing with life. At the end of the time all I am wishing for is for someone to yell some sense into this indecisive, self-absorbed, and self-pitying creature.
Does Annemarie improve by the last page? I’m not sure, to be honest, because there are always people willing to pick up her pieces after her so Annemarie doesn’t really experience any genuine challenge to her way of thinking and looking at things. She just wanders aimlessly through life, whining and bitching and moaning to the bitter end. I’m just glad to see the last of her by the time I close this book.