Sunday, July 12, 2009

A Morgan For Melinda (1980)

A Morgan For Melinda (aka A Horse For Melinda)

Doris Gates,

1980, The Viking Press

When my father first announced he was buying me a horse, I said "Thanks a lot. The last thing I want is a horse.

Few heroines in horsey lit are as hard to love as Melinda Ross. I distinctly remember the first time I read this book - with it's dreamy cover showing a beautiful horse overlaid with a little girl's head - and being wildly frustrated that the heroine was whining that she didn't want a horse. Even the explanation that follows - her dad always had a dream of buying a horse for his son, but Martin died of leukemia so he has transferred his dream to his daughter, never mind that she's a boy-crazy adolescent with no interest in equines - failed to engage my sympathy as a 7-year-old who spent her free time dreaming of the day her father would suddenly force a horse upon her. I read the book for Aranaway Ethan, the Morgan stallion who, gelded and trained, becomes the way-too-good-for-her first horse of Melinda.

Gates's writing is strong, her depictions of the little property in the beautiful Carmel Valley of California is evocative, and her characters are powerful enough to inspire strong feelings on the reader's part. As horsey lit, the book should satisfy but never quite does. Melinda is a modern and adult-oriented narrator who rarely comments on the horses or her own relationship with them, choosing instead to focus on the human relationships going on - her own with her father, her crush on a neighbor boy, her mentoree relationship with the writer Missy, etc. Against that failing are the clear, vivid scenes of Melinda with horses, from her first riding experience aboard a quiet older horse named Sam to her first rides on Ethan.

On the practical front, Gates does offer some of the most straightforward, unapologetically frank presentations of both the definition of a gelding, and the operation itself. And Melinda's slow progress from terrified to willing rider feels authentic.

I gave Ethan a touch with my heel, I heard Dad cluck to him, and in seconds we were into a slow trot. To my amazement, I wasn't bumping at all! I was riding, actually riding, for the very first time. I don't know how it happened, but suddenly I had got it all together and I was riding Ethan. He and I were going around and around on the end of that longe line as if we were glued together.

One caveat - and something of a spoiler - I dislike the dead elder books, where our Hero bonds with an older/elderly person who drops dead as a final life lesson. It's a grotesque plot device.

Horse/Other Animals

Sam - 12yo brown gelding with cream mane and tail

Mantic Peter Frost - Morgan foal

Aranaway Ethan - 7yo Morgan gelding, chestnut with white star and snip, hind socks

Oakhill's Merry Jo - liver chestnut Morgan mare with star, grand champion park horse

Fancy - white whippet

Other horse books by the author

A Filly For Melinda (sequel)

Little Vic

Sarah's Idea (donkey)

River Ranch (ranch)

North Fork (ranch)

About the author

(1901-1987) Gates grew up around Mountain View, California, first in a small town and then on a prune ranch. She worked as a children's librarian in Fresno; there is now a room named after her at Fresno Public Library.

Doris Gates papers at the University of Oregon

Works listed at above website, which I've been unable to find out more about
A Journey for Melinda:
Problems for Melinda
A Dog Named Arso
Rogue Haven
They Have Tomorrow
Trouble For Jerry
The Dog with the Too-Long Tail
The Dog Of War
The Flag on Catamount Hill
The Picture-Man's Pony

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