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Painted Horses

Painted Horses

4.1 11
by Malcolm Brooks

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In the mid-1950s, America was flush with prosperity and saw an unbroken line of progress clear to the horizon, while the West was still very much wild. In this ambitious, incandescent debut, Malcolm Brooks animates that time and untamed landscape, in a tale of the modern and the ancient, of love and fate, and of heritage threatened by progress.

Catherine Lemay


In the mid-1950s, America was flush with prosperity and saw an unbroken line of progress clear to the horizon, while the West was still very much wild. In this ambitious, incandescent debut, Malcolm Brooks animates that time and untamed landscape, in a tale of the modern and the ancient, of love and fate, and of heritage threatened by progress.

Catherine Lemay is a young archaeologist on her way to Montana, with a huge task before her—a canyon “as deep as the devil’s own appetites.” Working ahead of a major dam project, she has one summer to prove nothing of historical value will be lost in the flood. From the moment she arrives, nothing is familiar—the vastness of the canyon itself mocks the contained, artifact-rich digs in post-Blitz London where she cut her teeth. And then there’s John H, a former mustanger and veteran of the U.S. Army’s last mounted cavalry campaign, living a fugitive life in the canyon. John H inspires Catherine to see beauty in the stark landscape, and her heart opens to more than just the vanished past. Painted Horses sends a dauntless young woman on a heroic quest, sings a love song to the horseman’s vanishing way of life, and reminds us that love and ambition, tradition and the future, often make strange bedfellows. It establishes Malcolm Brooks as an extraordinary new talent.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
★ 03/24/2014
Brooks’s debut captures the grandeur of the American West. Catherine Lemay, a former pianist, goes to Montana in the 1950s as a young archeologist to survey a valley for signs of native habitation before the area is flooded by a hydroelectric project. Catherine fell in love with archeology while digging at Roman sites in Britain as a student, but now in the ruggedly masculine West, she almost immediately butts heads with her assigned guide, Jack Allen. She also falls under the spell of John H., an artist and lover of horses who leads a nomadic life in the badlands. Catherine’s arduous search of the valley is contrasted for much of the novel with John H.’s harrowing life story. When the two meet, intrigue sparks respect, which eventually flares into passion. The middle of the novel bogs down with lavish description (“The tilt of the planet had outrun the legs of winter and dawn climbed early now over the wide lip of the world”), and the third act, in which Catherine’s findings threaten the balance of money and power in the community, follows a predicable course. But on the whole, this is a debut that captures a spirit of a place. (Aug.)
From the Publisher

Praise for Painted Horses:

National Bestseller
One of Amazon’s 100 Best Books of 2014
#1 Indie Next Great Read for August 2014
A Barnes & Noble Discover Selection
Amazon Debut Spotlight for August 2014

“Engrossing . . . The best novels are not just written but built—scene by scene, character by character—until a world emerges for readers to fall into. Painted Horses creates several worlds.” —USA Today (4 out of 4 stars)

“Extraordinary . . . both intimate and sweeping in a way that may remind readers of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient . . . Painted Horses is, after all, one of those big, old-fashioned novels where the mundane and the unlikely coexist.”—Boston Globe

“Malcolm Brooks’ novel has the hard thrill of the West, when it was still a new world, the tenderness of first love and the pain of knowledge. This book is a gripping, compulsively readable page-turner.”—Amy Bloom, author of Away

Painted Horses reads like a cross between Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Ernest Hemingway’s A Farewell to Arms, with a pinch of Michael Ondaatje’s The English Patient for good measure. . . . An earnest, romantic novel.”—The Dallas Morning News

“Lush, breathtaking prose that expertly captures the raw essence of an American West known for its wide-open spaces and unbridled spirit. . . . Masterful.” —San Francisco Chronicle

“Reminiscent of the fiery, lyrical and animated spirit of Cormac McCarthy’s Border trilogy, and the wisdom and elegance of Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose, Painted Horses is its own work, a big, old-fashioned and important novel.”—Rick Bass, author of All the Land to Hold Us

“Evocative . . . Brooks’ prose rings true.”—The Seattle Times

Painted Horses is evidence that the many-peopled, colorific, panoramic, fully-wraparound, pull-you-in-by-the-heels, big-questions, literarily deft ‘Great American Novel’ still lives.”—Carolyn Chute, author of The Beans of Egypt, Maine and Treat Us Like Dogs and We Will Become Wolves

“Grandly romantic . . . Blood. Sex. War. Equine Expertise. Past versus Progress. Money versus Love and Sacred Places. One can almost hear Hollywood’s horsemen rumbling toward this tale.” —Orion

Painted Horses is a wonderful novel full of horses, archeology, the new West, and two fascinating women. Malcolm Brooks should be lauded for this amazing debut. Very fine.”—Jim Harrison, author of Legends of the Fall and Brown Dog

Painted Horses vividly evokes an earlier time, a place and a way of being that is at the cusp of great change. In his gift for the language of horses and the culture of horsemen, Brooks will inevitably recall Cormac McCarthy. And like Ivan Doig in Bucking the Sun, he mines one of the darker veins in the mythology of the American West”—The Washington Post

“A love song to the Western frontier, Painted Horses is a new, truly American, work of art.”—San Antonio Current

“Malcolm Brooks has the same intuitive understanding of women that his character John H has of horses. Painted Horses is a beautiful, sensual, authentic novel. A western novel that is about so much more than the West, it is an exquisite, enthralling debut.”—Lily King, author of Euphoria

“The next great western novel . . . Vivid—and often romantic . . . The past echoes through the canyons of the West in this richly layered first novel.”—The Daily Beast

“Ambitious and affecting . . . A sweeping and dramatic saga.”—Big Sky Journal

Library Journal
Set in grandly imposing Montana in the mid-1950s and weaving together Old World and New World archaeology while vividly portraying an American West now lost, this debut also works in miniature as it deftly portrays two characters who become unlikely allies. Catherine Lemay, a young archaeologist tasked with determining whether anything of historical value is threatened by a dam project, comes to appreciate the landscape's rough beauty with the help of John H, a former mustanger now hiding away in the canyon Catherine is assessing. With a five-city tour.
Kirkus Reviews
A mid-1950s oater that wants to comeover all cowboy and sensitive at the same time.Catherine Lemay, the heroine ofBrooks' debut, is a young archaeologist who's seen the aftermath of war pokingaround in the rubble of London. John H—she thinks it could stand for "horses,"but "hell raiser" is a reasonable candidate—rides the Western fence line,following the mustangs. He's known war up close, a member of the last Americanhorse cavalry unit to see combat, fighting the Germans in Italy. It stands toreason that, Montana being a small state and all, they'll meet and becomeintertwined like two wind-blasted strands of barbed wire. When Mr. H funs, hefuns, but when he and Catherine get serious, well….There's plenty to be seriousabout apart from sad reflections on the war, for a dam is coming to the couleein which the mustangs run, and both Catherine and John H have to make a stand:Do they serve progress, or do they fight for what's real about the West? Brooksdoes a good job of plotting, following parallel stories that speak to thatlarge question through characters who are more than just symbols—though they'rethat, too. There's some fine writing here, especially when it comes to horsesand the material culture that surrounds them, and when it comes to Westernlandscapes, too, for Brooks knows that in good Western writing, the land isalways a character. There's also some overwriting, along the lines of "[s]hewanted Audrey Williams to keep talking, wanted to know her story too, thefragments and pieces and the buried mysteries, wanted the whole vicarioustreasure of it." A little of that goes a long way, especially when Brooksplaces himself inside Catherine's head—and, from time to time, elsewhere in herbody.It's a sight better than TheBridges of Madison County, but it's a kindred project: Boy meets girl underopen sky, boy kisses girl, girl emotes, and then it's a whole new shootingmatch.

Product Details

Grove Atlantic
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.10(h) x 1.50(d)

Meet the Author

Malcolm Brooks was raised in the rural foothills of the California Sierras, and grew up around Gold Rush and Native American artifacts. A carpenter by trade, he has lived in Montana for most of two decades. His writing has appeared in Gray’s Sporting Journal, Outside, Sports Afield, and Montana Quarterly, among others.

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Painted Horses 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Ronrose More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic first novel. It’s a bit of the classic western, with lots of wild horses and open spaces. Yet it takes us down new trails that lead to unexpected, but exciting places. A young woman archeologist, Catherine LeMay, fresh from university and an opportune find in the war torn rubble that still defines parts of London 10 years after the end of World War LL. Catherine is now headed to the American West. The Smithsonian and a Montana power and light company are sponsoring her to search a remote canyon for archeological finds prior to a major dam construction project. Has she really been chosen for her scientific credits or has she been chosen because she is a young woman in a male dominated profession? A young woman who might be overwhelmed by the immensity of the job and easily manipulated to give the expected report? Catherine will prove as tough in her own way as the weathered cowboy she meets on her first day in Montana. John H. is as wild and weathered as the mustang he rides. He has another side, however, which Catherine discovers. He has turned a life long talent for painting into an homage for the horses he once caught and sold. John H. has a checkered past, but his love of the West and it’s wild horses is as true as his attraction to Catherine. Each will help the other to seek their goals, but there is much to overcome in a world now run by money and power. Book provided for review by Grove Press.
Fonti More than 1 year ago
I started our really engrossed in the story but parts are long winded and other parts don't even sound like the same author is writing it. Over all, it is a good story but does not read smoothly.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a fantastic new release by one of Barnes and Nobles Discover new writers!  There are so many elements to like.  A great story set in the American West.  Though set in the 1950's, many elements are still current when progress meets art and history.  I am not very articulate, but Malcolm Brooks does it very well.  I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants a great story with some grit and meaning.  I didn't want it to end.
Anonymous 11 months ago
10 stars. One of my top favorite books of all time. Must read!!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This novel has a bit of everything: cowboys, war, love, sex, tragedy, archeology, horses, indians, life on the rez, history, sheep, and a good story line. I enjoyed it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Really enjoyed this story. Loved the characters. Really appreciated the devotion to the horses by one character. I do wish the author would have gone in more depth about the 50s. He did an excellent job when writing about World War 2. I think the female character may have not been totally understood because if you have not lived in the1950s the reader is missing context. Other excellent writers with excellent character development are: Margaret Mayhew, William Jarvis, Judith Lennox, Laurie Graham, Mary Gibson, Sandra Dallas, Lynn Austin, and Duncan Barrett just to name a few. This book deserves an A++++++
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I'm surprised this book was not filtered out by the editors, publisher or even Barnes and Noble. It is amateurish and riddled with so many  writerly mistakes that I found it laughable. It in no way rises to the level of Wallace Stegner, Cormac McMurty or Larry McCarthy.  Before you buy it, read a few test pages. 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Could have been a much better book if more diligently researched
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I just finished this novel and enjoyed it very much. I found parts difficult to read regarding treatment of the horses, but I liked the main character, John H., and was glad he turned out to be a bit of a here after all. The story is sad, but there is a glimmer of hope at the end that he and Catherine may connect once again. Definitely worth the read.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Ever since I was a little girl, i have always dreamed of riding a horse again. But you know what? As long as this author keeps on writing these books, im still dreaming and keeping my hopes up and i hope that you do the same.