Monday, November 26, 2012

Word Of Honor (1964)

Word Of Honor: A Story About Thoroughbreds
Ruth Adams Knight and Claud Garner
1964, Ariel Books; Farrar, Strauss and Company

Until now he had taken the family's genteel poverty pretty much for granted.  Kentucky had many run-down farms.  But he had been made suddenly aware that his life, which had evolved naturally from the land he lived on, from being a Matten of Louisville, was a boy's life no longer.

Mimms Matten Parker, or Rusty, is 18 and looking forward to the summer and then his first year at college when his father dies suddenly. Lee Parker wasn't much of a worker, content to let their Kentucky bluegrass farm fall into disrepair, along with his own financial fortunes.   His mother, Hope, has always been the stronger parent, with a firm belief in the integrity of her family, the Mattens.  Her stepson, Howard, is a sulky, rebellious double for his dad, always in search of a quick buck and with no family loyalty.  He splits before the body is cold, taking the family car and leaving the Mattens to search for a way to keep their land.

Luck is with them.  Rusty happens across a drifter, a Mexican with a face disfigured by smallpox but a warm smile and a deep understanding of farming.  With his help, the family begins to think they might succeed.  But some neighbors, including the brisk manager of a nearby Thoroughbred farm who's got his eye on Hope, think that Arturo Cardenas de la Garza is suspicious. 

While the horse sequences have a rote, distant quality, this book excels at making you feel the challenge of rehabilitating a neglected farm and has a realism about the setbacks faced by the Mattens.  Less likeable but still realistic are Rusty's troubled romance with pretty, shallow Lita and his struggle to decide whether he entirely trusts Arturo, who everyone called Padre.  Rusty's essential problem is that even if he distrusts Padre, what can he really do about it?  Just a few months after the drifter moved in, the family is dependent on him for help and advice.  And Rusty has a bigger dream than just hanging on.  As he says late in the book:

"A year ago I had a dream about raising Thoroughbreds on this old farm, and not one chance to have it come true.  Now there he is!  Our family's past and present is in him, and he's a pledge to our future."

This plot has its own complications.  Saving a savagely injured young racehorse and turning her into a broodmare - a plot designed to give the second half of the book the hope that her foal will turn the Matten fortunes - rings false.  The injury is so dire, it seems unlikely that making the horse carry foals would be plausible or humane.

Horses frequently have ridiculous names, but Knight has a positive talent for making you cringe - Purple Sage, Hot Shot, Black Star.  And worst of all, Miss Flighty Fleet.

Ruth Adams Knight
While she didn't write any other equine books, she did write quite a few dog books.  Born in Ohio, she got her foot in the door with journalism during WWI, moved to New York in the 1920s and became an early writer and show runner for radio soap operas.  She was married three times and had two children.

Dog books
Halfway To Heaven: The Story of the Saint Bernard* (1952)
A Friend In The Dark: The Story of A Seeing Eye Dog (1937) il. Morgan Dennis
Luck Of The Irish (1951)
A War Dog (1944)
Brave Companions (1948)
Valiant Comrades (1942)

excerpt in Dog Spelled Backwards by Mordeccai Siegal

Other Books - Nonfiction
Opera Calvalcade: The Story of the Metropolitan (1938)
Sky High In Bolivia (1942)
Stand By For The Ladies: The Distaff Side of Radio (1939)
Lady Editors: Careers for Women in Publishing (1941)

Other Books
Case Histories (1944) (with Jean Hersholt)
Dr. Christian's Office (based on the radio program Dr. Christian) (1946)
First The Lightning (1955)
The Treasured One: The Story of Rudiovravan Princess of Siam
It Might Be You
Search For The Galleon's Gold! (1956)
Fare By My Side (1948)*
Queen Of Roses (1966)
Certain Harvest (1960)
Day After Tomorrow (1952)
The Land Beyond (1934)
Women Must Weep (1953)
Top Of The Mountain (1953)

*also in the February 1948 McCall's magazine

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