Tuesday, January 4, 2022

The Ride of Her Life

  The Ride of Her Life: The True Story of a Woman, Her Horse, and Their Last-Chance Journey Across America
Author:  Elizabeth Letts
Publication Information:  Ballantine Books. 2021. 336 pages.
ISBN:  0525619321 / 978-0525619321

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "The sun rose bright over Pasadena, California, on January 1, 1954."

Favorite Quote:  "... the quiet strength of her personal philosophy - that happiness comes only to those who participate in the adventure of life, and that true security is, in essence, a state of mind."

Imagine 1954 in Maine. Imagine being a 63-year old woman who has spent most of her life on an isolated farm in Maine. Imagine that you have lost your family and are about to lose your farm.  Imagine that you have been told be the doctor to live a restful life and that you may not have long to live. If you find yourself in this situation, what do you do?

Now comes the surprise. Annie Wilkins is this woman, and what she decides to do is take a huge risk. She spends a season growing a cash crop to make some money, sells her farm, buys a horse, and decides that she is going to ride cross country with her dog to see California. Why? For the simple reason of a dream to see California. Annie, at a crossroads in her life, does not want to die without living out a dream.

This book is the story of that journey that lasted over a year. She began in November, 1954 and reached California in March 1956. She began with some money, a horse named Tarzan, and a dog named Depeche Toi. "And more than anything, Annie had trust. When she set off, she was sure she was going to find the same America she'd grown up believing in: A country made up of one giant set of neighbors. People who'd be happy to give you a helping hand. People spread out far and wide, from sea to shining sea, with different accents, and different favorite dishes, and different kinds of homes, people who lived with dust or traffic, snowstorms or tornadoes, or mountain for flatlands, in cities or small towns. ... people who were fundamentally decent and deep down, the same."

That trust, for the most part, bears out across the country. Annie's personal story becomes of days of riding and people along the way who provide help and support. The cycle repeats over and over and even grows as Annie's story goes "viral" through the news without the benefit of the internet. She and her animals capture the imagination of all those who learn about them. 

Annie's story alone, however, is not enough to fill a book because the days do repeat and the sense of purpose remains constant. This book adds to Annie's story with inserts about the history of the United States at that time. The highway system. The beginning of the TV age. The demise of small farms. The growth of towns. The Jim Crow era. McCarthyism. And so much more. The information builds on an incident, a location, or even a person along Annie journey and expands to present the history.

The history at times seems to interrupt Annie's story, but, at the same time, provides the context. At times, the balance tilts in favor of the history, with Annie's story becoming a conduit for the history. However, the uniqueness of Annie and her journey is definitely the ultimate lasting impression of this book.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

No comments:

Post a Comment