Growing pains and the loss of innocence on a desert ranch.
Kyle’s debut tracks the complicated, often punitive business of love from the preternaturally mature perspective of 12-year-old Alice Winston, whose father, Jody, knows more about horses than he does about running a successful business. After Alice’s older sister Nona—a brilliant rider and useful advertisement for the ranch—runs off to marry a cowboy, Jody is reduced to stabling boarders (the fine horses of bored, rich women) and trying to teach untalented but wealthy Sheila Altman to win at horse shows. Alice’s mother Marian is a bed-ridden depressive; Alice herself is preoccupied by the drowning of her schoolmate Polly Cain, who was in the habit of making phone calls to her English teacher, Mr. Delmar. Alice, lonely as well as sensitive to her father’s financial problems and her mother’s emotional ones, starts to make secret calls to Delmar herself. Kyle delivers the story in graceful, translucent prose, while the mood of the book is overwhelmingly bleak and steadily focused on the gathering storm. Fearful expectations are eventually realized as a sequence of disasters unfolds, starting with a horrific riding accident that leaves Jody’s possible lover Patty Jo badly damaged. Next, Delmar leaves and Alice, in distress, reveals to Sheila her father’s infidelities. Patty Jo’s accident precipitates the ranch’s ruin and a family argument brings about further cruelty, this time leading to the agonizing destruction of a horse. Although an unlikely gift leaves Alice with enough money to go to college, and Kyle wraps up by offering some perspective, it’s not exactly a happy ending.
A talented writer’s lyrical but oppressive first work.