Boleto, by Alyson Hagy
Hagy’s third novel is a mostly steady effort about a young horseman struggling to find the balance between sentimentality and reality.
Will Testerman has long been comfortable with his horses – from the old pony he bought as a boy to the new bright-eyed filly meant to be a serious investment in his future. But he has some trouble with people. At 23, after spending several homebound years caring for his ailing mother, Will is finally ready to establish himself as a respected horse trainer and make his way to a famous polo estancia in California. He believes the intelligent, dancing filly he buys at auction to be his ticket, but Will has not counted on the complexities of human interaction, the desires that compete within him, and the troubling role that money always plays in a man’s life.
Boleto is a quiet novel, very much reliant on character and light on plot. The description of horses and equestrian life are believable and familiar, rarely dipping into the sentimental anthropomorphizing that can characterize horse novels. The prose is fluid, readable, and frequently beautiful but never heart-stopping. As a character, Will is somewhat removed and bloodless. You never feel as though you know him, even though you are in his head. His motivations seem murky at times, but this may be true to his own lack of self-knowledge. Still, for the first two parts of the novel, the reader can feel a slow momentum building as Will moves with his filly towards an end he thinks he knows.
Unfortunately, the third part of the novel is something of a misstep as Hagy introduces characters and plot developments that seem to come out of nowhere and return to the same. A reader enjoying the early atmosphere and movements of the novel will likely find himself disappointed and perhaps confused by the third act. The ambiguity of Will’s character is no comfort in the end.
If you are a fan of horse stories and don’t mind if a novel doesn’t wrap up neatly or particularly well, then you may enjoy this readable, somewhat muted third novel by the author of Snow, Ashes.