A lazy, last-day-of summer holiday was the perfect day to read Jane Smiley’s latest, Pie in the Sky.  An exquisitely crafted character-focused story, gently told, meditatively plotted and rich with detail, I couldn’t put this book down.  Its first fans will be young women in love with horses and all things equine, but readers who devour richly textured character-driven stories (my favorite!) will be hooked within the first few pages as well.

As the summer of 1966 bleeds into Autumn, fourteen year old Abby Levitt, whose life revolves around the meditatively hard work of training and caring for her family’s horses, finds herself and her beloved gelding Blue completely unprepared for a jumping clinic with a famous trainer.  Embarrassed, but unbroken, Abby is more taken aback when Sophia, the girl who never makes mistakes, is reduced to a crying dropout by the trainer’s methods and criticism.  When Sophia stops riding, Abby is asked to ride Pie in the Sky, Sophia’s expensive, proud and irritable horse.  But Abby isn’t really comfortable with this arrangement, primarily because it takes her away from Blue and her duties to the other horses in her care.

Life is changing for Abby in more ways than simply her time with the horses: she’s started high school, her best friends have moved away, and she has to navigate an increasingly complicated world that she would just as soon stay on the periphery of.   To try and bring balance to her changing world, Abby finds solace in the certainty of working with the horses and her chores on the ranch.  When her mind is clear of the daily worries, she is able to ruminate on the myriad of ways there are to look at people, horses and life itself.

Smiley imbues Abby with a charming mix of innocence and wisdom, balancing her youth and inexperience with a sense that you’re in the presence of an old soul.  The other characters are equally flushed out and made to feel real, from Abby’s parents and friends to the individual horses themselves.  The world Abby lives in is given as much richness as the people in her life, as Smiley takes great pains to describe and define the beauty of the ranch, the pastures, arenas and even the halls of the high school.  Slow, meditative and patient, Pie in the Sky is a rich character driven novel primarily about a young woman’s awakening with subtle hints of the cultural shift from the rigidity of the 1950’s to the go-with-the-flow mindset of the late 1960’s.

  • Posted by Cori

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