by Anne Montgomery
Helped by her Aunt Ruthie, Becca Quinn flees her violent and abusive marriage in New Jersey to the Salt River Inn in Arizona owned by Ruthie’s old friend, Gaby. Slowly the desert environment and quiet compassion of the locals begins to heal her, until the Inn opens for guests and one of them is terrifyingly familiar to Becca…
Wild Horses On The Salt is a beautifully considered novel that envelops the reader in the natural world. The desert setting, climate and creatures are wonderfully realised, richly detailed and immersive – almost like a painting which is ironic given that Becca rekindles her artistic soul at the Salt River Inn.
The opening is confidently written. It’s fairly obvious what’s happened to Becca as she wakes on her first morning at the Salt River Inn but there are enough missing details to engage the reader and the story builds nicely; the prose is deceptively intricate and there are a series of subtle twists in all directions.
However, while the wealth of descriptive detail is the book’s undeniable strength, it is also its weakness. At times, it needed reining in a little in order to quicken the pace. Nonetheless, the chapters are very short which does help the tempo and are written from multiple points of view, in third person, giving everything a rounded perspective. The chapters involving the horse and sheep are achingly sweet with a touch of fable to them which rendered them quite poignant. The wild horses run throughout the novel, literally and metaphorically, and their plight, which Ms. Montgomery highlights, is one which sparks impassioned debate but unfortunately, little conclusion.
Gaby and her blacksmith partner, Walt, are lovely characters as is Oscar, the ornithological psychiatrist. The supporting cast are all given layers of interest and authenticity and it really brings them to life. Becca is occasionally hard to involve with, although this is understandable, it does make her a little frustrating in places.
Wild Horses On The Salt could have been a straightforward narrative of surviving abuse but Ms. Montgomery includes a gentle, hesitant romance angle with cattle rancher, Noah Tanner; it works believably and also provides a good contrast to the harrowing flashbacks that Becca has of her time with her husband.
Indeed, just over halfway through, Wild Horses On The Salt takes on the mantle of a thriller. I found elements of the last quarter to be quite frightening and the mental abuse and mind-games are chilling. Personally, I would have liked to have seen her husband made to atone further and also, Becca’s parents, who have to take considerable blame.
Word of warning – don’t read this book on an empty stomach. The food that Walt prepares at the Salt River Inn is described in such mouth-watering detail, it begins to distract from the story!
Wild Horses On The Salt is a sumptuous, thoughtful novel from a skilled storyteller. Highly recommended.