by Lesley Poling-Kempes
"Know your own bone;
gnaw at it, bury it, unearth it,
and gnaw at it still..."
Mystery enfolds a tale of human landscapes and lost bones on the desert in Bone Horses. The title alone surprised and intrigued me. I wondered if this story that appeared to include so many of my passions—the desert, horses, skulls, landscapes, and the peaks and valleys of human terrain—could possibly live up to my expectations.
Bone Horses did, and more.
We meet Charlotte Lambert as she arrives in Agua Dulce, New Mexico, for the first time. Charlotte left her familiar East Coast for the fabled New Mexico she heard about from her grandfather since childhood. She hopes to discover why her mother died here so many years earlier, an apparent suicide. Her recently deceased grandfather always told Charlotte, "Your mother, Alicia, did not go to New Mexico to die." Her grandmother refused to speak of Agua Dulce.
The characters—previously known to Charlotte only as whispered names from her grandfather—come to life when she meets them. Poling-Kempes also brings to life the complex character of northern New Mexico and its people, with the solidity that comes from knowing and loving a place with intimacy and acceptance of all its aspects. The people of northern New Mexico live there for many reasons. Some are hiding from their past, and some because there they find life. Still others stay because their families have lived there for generations, and their blood and history is as much of the land as the rocks, sand, and plants.
As with The Hummingbird's Daughter by Luis Alberto Urrea, Bone Horses creates a lush story comprised of a severe land, a story of secrets, love, and family. A bit of magic threads through this book, written with a deft touch that lifts the story into an evocative realm. Poling-Kempes' writing is as stark and sensuous as the land as she writes of and the redemptive power of the secrets she brings to light. A book to be savored!
Lesley Poling-Kempes' work has received the Zia Award for Excellence from the New Mexico Press Women, and her books have been finalists for the Western Writers of America Spur Award for Best First Novel (Canyon of Remembering), for the Independent Publisher Book Award for Best Western Non-Fiction (Ghost Ranch), and won the IPPY Award for Best Fine Art Book (Georgia O'Keeffe and New Mexico). Her book about The Harvey Girls and the Santa Fe Railway, based on seventy-six interviews Lesley conducted in the early 1980s, is considered the definitive work on the subject and era in women's history. Bone Horses won the Tony Hillerman Award for Best Fiction, 2013, and also won a Silver Medal from the 2014 IPPY Awards. Her new book of nonfiction, Ladies of the Canyons, will be released by the University of Arizona Press in Sept. 2015. Visit her website.
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