Perhaps all you need to know is that Molly Gloss writes perfect books. Whether she’s writing about generation starships or shape-changing historical fiction or Westerns–in the sense of stories about ranchers in the American west that feature little in the way of gunplay or saloon fights–she has a way of pulling the reader in to show you the sadness in beauty itself. She doesn’t hold back from showing how blithely and thoughtlessly people can hurt each other or themselves, or how people can get killed just trying to live. But most of her characters try hard to live right, even if it’s not until after they’ve made some of their worst mistakes.
Falling from Horses isn’t exactly a sequel to Gloss’s previous perfect book, The Hearts of Horses; in fact it’s not clear in the beginning that the two books are related at all, despite the similarity in titles. The protagonist, Bud Frazer, is on his way to 1930s Hollywood as the book starts, hoping to stunt ride in the movies. He meets Lily Shaw on the bus, a woman who plans to break into film as a writer. Their friendship is unlikely and something that largely develops after the book ends; Bud’s story is told in the form of a memoir, with the perspective of someone looking closely at the beginning of one of the most important friendships of his life, and the events that surrounded that beginning.
The other part of the story, the part that happens before Bud and Lily’s bus ride, is interspersed throughout the memoir as a third-person tale, more in the vein of The Hearts of Horses, and it’s there that it becomes clear that Bud is the son of Martha, the protagonist of that book. The effect of these changes is a bit like the difference between a close-up and an establishing shot, presented in the opposite order one might expect. It’s character-appropriate; while Bud is the sort of person who would write a memoir, there are some things he just can’t talk about directly, and Martha is the sort of person who, upon being told that a book was being written about her, would blink, consider asking why anyone would write a book about her, then decide to change the subject.
There is a short list of people who will love this book: horse people, and also everyone else. It’s the sort of book that you never want to end, even though you know it’s given you everything it possibly could.