by Alice Hoffman
In Alice Hoffman’s spellbinding tale of a strange Southwestern family, the assumed chains of binding ties are challenged and left raw – all before eventually disintegrating into dust that rolls along the California hills. A distant and distrusting father figure, King Connors watches as the superstitions of his wife Dina’s past take root in their only daughter, the beautiful and wide-eyed Teresa. Helpless against the ghostly essence that has crept into every crevice of the Connors’ existence, King makes a run for it, trying not to look back. Left behind and living in a small town gripped by the thick mist that flows freely from the river, the young girl comes down with a mysterious sleeping illness that the family struggles to keep hidden. Her dreams can last for hours or they can last for days, and when she sinks into them, she falls into a world wrought with dark-eyed heroic cowboys on white horses who croon words of deep affection and guiding light. She’s a princess locked in a tower, a Sleeping Beauty trapped by thorny vines; she’s a puzzling riddle of quiet allure.
The only person who can reach Teresa is her older brother, the enigmatic Silver; but their magnetic pull is sometimes too strong, leaving them both skirting the thin line between right and wrong or as some may see it, good and evil. Every woman who comes into contact with Silver knows there is something magical woven into his blood, some sort of mystic energy that grinds its way into the very soul of a person. Much like the pressure that turns coal into diamond, the familial and personal stresses Silver faces only seem to make him more irresistible to women, somehow turning his surly attitude into something charming and full of sexual appeal. Dina Connors, his wary mother, finds herself strangely possessive of the boy, but her enrapture is laced with a fear of what lies just underneath the skin of her son. There is a wildness that lives within Silver Connors, and much like a mustang who spends its life running across the tumbling plains, he will never be tamed.
” It was true that he was her favorite. If it had been Silver and not Reuben who had jumped off the train in Los Angeles, Dina would have cried herself to sleep for months, she would have lit candles on the anniversary of that day every year for the rest of her life. It was not that Silver resembled anyone, though he had the same dark eyes as Dina’s father and King Connor’s long legs — it was because he was so much himself that Dina loved him more than her other children. She would have sacrificed the others to save Silver in a minute, and every time she looked at him she was sure he was the perfect stranger that she had known forever.
Dina had always heard about men like Silver, he was just like those outlaws her own father had called Arias — his name for the men who appeared out of nowhere, who rode white horses across the mesas with no particular destination other than red deserts, the cool waterholes, the streams that had cut their way through miles of black rocks. These Arias weren’t lost men. Dina’s father had made that very clear. They were riders who knew the way back to the cities they ha come from; they knew the way home, to places as far away as Virginia and New York, as distant as Spain. But they never turned back, never went home, they were always traveling west, always moving toward the sun. “
Except, for Silver there is –
Just as magic runs in Silver’s blood, so does she. She is more than a little sister, she is a veritable Siren, one who silently calls to him even as he sleeps. As the invisible thread between them grows thicker and more vibrant, an undercurrent of fear threatens to overtake them both. That salacious danger that once fueled desire in them both has turned into something real and binding, and Silver flees for the betterment of the one who will forever hold his heart. His attempts to put the sleepy old town and his sister behind him prove fruitless, and the energy that flows between them eventually calls them both home.
In a mystical world where rules don’t seem to apply, White Horses explores the forbidden and the taboo that is readily adopted by a dysfunctional family full of outlaws. In a constant dreamlike state, Teresa grows from a child into a woman and struggles with her footing into independence. With one foot constantly in Silver’s world, she fights as if underwater, pushing through the cumbersome currents with a halfhearted determination. Teresa doesn’t really want to be rid of her brother, or does she? And is it even possible, anyway?
” Teresa had been sitting in the same place for hours; if she closed her eyes for even a second she felt she was surrounded by wild horses with hoofs so sharp they were like daggers. Now that she heard Silver’s voice she could no longer control her grief; she bent her head and cried, and her tears fell into the untouched cup of coffee. Although he tried not to go any closer, Silver was drawn to her; he stood right behind her, then reached down and put his hand on her neck. He could feel her rapid pulse.
‘We’re orphans now,’ he whispered.
Beneath his touch, Teresa was melting. She had more tears inside her than she thought possible; she was sure that if she turned to face him, she would throw her arms around Silver, she would never be able to let go.
Silver bent down; he was so close that when he spoke Teresa could feel his breath on her skin.
‘It’s just the two of us now,’ Silver told her, and even though Dina was still upstairs in her bed, and Bergen sat in the living room staring at the photograph Dina’s father had given him so many years ago, Teresa felt her heart leap, and being hear to Silver seemed more dangerous than ever. And in that dark kitchen on a day when lightning moved across the sky, she couldn’t pretend that she hadn’t been waiting for Silver to say exactly those words for as long as she could remember. “
Giving White Horses a 3.5 out of 5 star rating, I have to say that it wasn’t for lack of enjoying the book. The writing is superbly done: the detail of the town, of the characters, and of the lust is so vividly drawn that it’s nearly painful in it’s beauty. But as the story came to it’s close, I found myself anxious for some sort of resolution and was sorely disappointed. Funnily enough, by the end of the book I was a willing partner in the incestuous relationship between Silver and Teresa – and I think it’s maybe because on some level, I found it impossible to believe that they were actual brother and sister. I was waiting for that mystery to be unraveled, as Silver never seemed to be quite like anyone else in the family, and I was convinced he was the son of an Aria (the fabled cowboys Dina spoke of in such high regard). It felt as if the author gave up at the end, not able to move forward and so instead, left readers unsatisfied. In short words, I felt cheated.
Up until the end, White Horses was a novel I had a hard time putting down. There was a fairytale-esque nature to the storyline that I really enjoyed. I just wish I’d gotten a bit of closure for the characters that I felt so bonded to. Whether or not any of the remaining characters had any redemption left in them was besides the point – I wanted to know how they ended up. While I did not get my wish, I still recommend this book to readers who enjoy the creeping mystery of a dark story, and readers of twisted fairy tales that are as fleeting as the wind they ride in on.
Readers who find White Horses intriguing and appreciate the author’s style of writing should be sure to check out Alice Hoffman’s other works, which include Practical Magic and teen novel Aquamarine (both of which were both made into feature films), as well as the highly acclaimed The Dovekeepers and Incantation.