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IF WISHES WERE HORSES by Robert Barclay

IF WISHES WERE HORSES

By Robert Barclay

Pub Date: Jan. 25th, 2011
ISBN: 978-0-06-196688-0
Publisher: Morrow/HarperCollins

A horse-therapy program helps mitigate the tragic consequences of a drunk-driving accident, in businessman Barclay’s debut.

The author's concept is solid. In a Boca Ratan auto crash, a drunk driver and the occupants of the vehicle he hit are killed. Five years later, Wyatt Blaine, whose wife Krista and son Danny died in the accident, and Gabrielle “Gabby” Powers, widow of the drunk driver, meet. Their minister has persuaded Wyatt to admit Gabby’s troubled son, Trevor, to an equine-therapy program at the Blaine family's Flying B Ranch. Wyatt and Gabby are understandably wary of one another, and Trevor thinks Krista caused the accident. With such material, why is this earnest first novel about as riveting as a five-hour PowerPoint presentation? Perhaps it's the sluggish narration and excessive attention to preliminaries. The equine therapy doesn’t even start until some 100 pages in. The program’s impact on Gabby’s son Trevor, whose combativeness in school, not helped by his retro–James Dean get-up, has him on the verge of expulsion, is never really shown—one minute he’s slouching and not making eye contact, the next minute he’s respectful to adults, having exchanged his greaser persona for a Stetson and cowboy boots. The attraction between Gabby and Wyatt is as rote as the appeal of Barbie for Ken, a pair they also resemble physically. Two minor characters threaten to run away with the story. Ramsey (Ram) Blaine, founder and patriarch of the Flying B, is desperately trying to stave off Alzheimer’s and hold on to the reins as benevolent dictator and champion of underdogs like Trevor and Gabby. Then there is Mercy, a ranch hand who cleans up as well as any filly but can out-wrangle any guy, whether at horsemanship, poker or drinking. Her only weakness is her unrequited passion for Wyatt. Several interesting conflicts are introduced but not developed—the preposterously catastrophic close hardly makes up the drama deficit.

A promising premise is scuttled by mawkish writing, dithering dialogue and a meandering plot.