William Testerman is 23 years old, living on his family's ranch in Wyoming after a job at a stable in Texas that ended on a bad note. "His father thought he was too much of a dreamer," Alyson Hagy
writes of Will in the opening pages of Boleto
, "that he took chances on things a person could not touch or see, that he did not place enough value in the normal, unpleasant things a man had to do in his life." And, as Will admits to himself, "that was not a false judgment... he had been known to smash himself among his dreams."
As Hagy's third novel works up to speed, you'll find yourself hoping things are going to work out for Will this time around. He's just put $1,200 down on a two-year-old filly, planning to train her slowly and maybe make a polo horse out of her. His plan is to work the summer at a tourist ranch at the other end of the state, then head out to a polo ground in southern California, based on an invitation from a rich breeder. He's the kind of quiet, Character Approved man who's willing to learn whatever he can from whoever he can, but sometimes that stoicism can rub people the wrong way--and though Will's far from naive, he's still got the capacity to be surprised by other people's venality.
Alyson Hagy's prose is expertly lean: every word of dialogue is carefully measured, and her descriptions of the worlds Will makes his way through, from a Wyoming spring ("the shortest, meanest season on God's green earth") to the unsettling atmosphere of the California ranch, are instantly evocative. Just as Will patiently forges his relationship with the unnamed filly, Boleto
forms an immediate bond with readers, then refuses to break it as Hagy carefully guides us through the story she has to tell, to an ending that gives us closure but also leaves us wanting to stay with Will for much, much longer. If there's a better novel published this year, it's going to have to be pretty spectacular.
[Image: Ted Brummond]