Read story by Tess Gallagher online.
Tess Gallagher's story is less a narrative than a brooding meditation on death—well, on life too. The life and death belong primarily to the lover of horses of the title, the first-person narrator's great-grandfather, by reputation a horse "whisperer." But it's also about her father, related to her great-grandfather only by marriage. As she sees it, they share a similar experience, swept up by life, chosen by something outside of and greater than themselves. "[H]e was in all likelihood a man who had been stolen by a horse," she writes of her great-grandfather's abandonment of his family at the age of 52 to join a circus. Thus, she reasons, the impulse to make oneself an outsider was not just an influence but a positive factor in all their decisions. In the case of her father the lack of bloodlines might make it something of a stretch, but OK. Her father loved to play cards, or more accurately gamble. Near the end of his life, in his 70s, he finds a game and has an extraordinary run of luck. It is a high point of his life, and highly meaningful—or anyway that's how his daughter, the first-person narrator, sees it. On some level it's rationalizing, but the story seems to believe it and even manages to dignify it, like a good Joni Mitchell song. Gallagher was more a writer of poetry, and in many ways that's how this story feels. Everything is pointed toward an idea that, at least in some cases, things choose us and not the other way round, as we usually see them. Horses chose her great-grandfather, gambling chose her father, presumably writing, or maybe love for her father or family, has chosen this writer. I'm not sure there's much ambiguity here, except perhaps that grief has affected her, distorted her view, which seems unlikely. And I'm not sure there's much more to the story than that. It seems slight in some ways—the easy argument is that these men are failures. But the narrator wants us to look beyond that. For example, at the joy of her father finally encountering his long-sought streak of good luck. She wants us to see joy where we might be inclined to see obsession, or something similarly unhealthy. Maybe so, maybe so. But hard to say.
American Short Story Masterpieces, ed. Raymond Carver and Tom Jenks