Alex Adams’ White Horse came galloping out of the herd of dystopian fiction earlier this year, accompanied by lots of positive reviews and buzz. I took a bet on it, but unfortunately, for me, what I had taken for a White Horse was, in actuality, a bob-tailed nag.
(Okay, okay…no more horse puns.)
While it initially seemed like a promising example of a post-apocalypse novel, I ended up finishing White Horse solely for the reveals. Even when reading something that I don’t entirely enjoy for various reasons, if there are unanswered questions and the twists come fast and furious, I’ll still read it. This was the case with White Horse, where though I could tell within the first 75 or so pages that this wasn’t going to be a favorite of mine, there were tons of twists.
However, most of the novel’s twists were nonsensical and/or utterly, utterly weird. The explanations given for the apocalypse seem as though Adams liked too many ideas and tried to jam them all in at the same time, rather than simply letting one reasonable explanation stand alone. The novel’s villains have no discernible similarities to actual human beings; their motivations are as sketchy as the bad guys from the Rocky & Bullwinkle cartoons, right down to the dramatic evil villain monologues. In the interests of spoilers, that’s all I’ll say about that, but you will definitely know which twists I mean when you hit them. While I’m talking about the characters…frankly, even our heroes feel unrealistic. Zoe’s companion Lisa is naive to the point of actual stupidity; Nick the therapist should have been reported for unprofessional conduct; protagonist Zoe herself seems to have more lives than a cat, stretching my credulity to the breaking point.
The “then” and “now” narrative construction of the novel was definitely interesting, and it kept the story feeling fresh. There were some nice parallels between Zoe’s challenges pre- and post-end of the world, specifically her relationship to those around her, both friend and foe. It also gave the story a vignette-like feel, and (ostensibly) allowed Adams to skip around to the most gripping parts of the story. Despite the unique story framework, though, there was a heck of a lot of walking. My takeaway? Make sure you wear comfortable shoes for the apocalypse.
Perhaps the most buzz has centered on Adams’ writing style. And I’m not completely opposed to it: Some individual sentences in White Horse were quite lovely. Zoe’s dilemma with the jar, which opens the novel and remains one of its central mysteries, is interestingly done, and makes great use of the unreliable narrator trope. And the very last sentence in the novel, for example, is great–the imagery is evocative and the emotion feels real, and I felt some affection for Zoe in that moment.
Unfortunately, these gems are few and far between. Most of the potential action and advancement of the plot was instead choked to death by the author’s complete overuse of similes and metaphors. They were clunky, misapplied, distracting, and INESCAPABLE. I began bookmarking the more egregious ones as I read (which is never a good sign.) Some choice examples:
- “My heart is an elevator with broken cables crashing through the floors all the way to my feet.” (56)
- “She’s a desperate kaleidoscope searching for a pattern that both asks her questions and answers them with words that will yield comfort.” (103)
- “My infrastructure collapses in on itself and I have no choice but to crouch down, one hand reaching out in front to steady me like I’m an unwieldy tripod.” (115)
- “My eyes are rapid-filling cisterns.” (170)
- “He’s a sidewalk in summer.” (170)
- “We giggle like silly girls, carefree and alive, until reality begins to lap around the edges like a thirsty cat.” (246)
A good editor would have pruned these sentences in order to make them manageable. Because real people DON’T think or speak like this! And I feel pretty confident in saying that real people definitely wouldn’t think or speak like this in the middle of a full-blown mutant pandemic. As it stood, however, I was constantly jolted out of the action by our narrator’s inane and bizarre descriptive language.
Try not to roll your eyes when you hit the book’s end only to be confronted by an excerpt for the sequel, Red Horse (second in the trilogy). With its overly-flowery descriptions, nonsensical plot, and unrealistic characters, I don’t think I will be returning to the world of White Horse any time soon. For truly transformative dystopian fiction, read Cormac McCarthy’s The Road instead.
I received White Horse free for review from publisher Atria through Netgalley. White Horse was published April 17, 2012.
Bookwanderer Rating: Two out of five stars
Bookwanderer Tagline: “My eyes are rapid-filling cisterns.” (Sorry, I had to!)