By L.S. Klepp
September 08, 1995 at 04:00 AM EDT
  • Movie

The book you’re likely to read about, hear about, and — if the publicity department at Delacorte could arrange it — dream about is Nicholas Evans’ first novel, THE HORSE WHISPERER. Not only is it soon to be a major motion picture (Hollywood Pictures and Robert Redford’s production company, Wildwood, bought the rights for $3 million), it’s already a major motion picture. For one thing, Evans relies on crosscutting and other cinematic techniques. For another, a lot of money is involved: Delacorte paid $3.15 million for this novel, the publishing equivalent of Waterworld.

All the fuss is over a simple story of a girl and her horse. And her mother. And a lean, laconic but profound cowboy. One winter morning 13-year-old Grace Maclean goes out riding in upstate New York. What follows is the most carefully orchestrated riding accident in American fiction, involving a slippery slope and a wayward 40-ton truck. Grace loses her leg and her horse, Pilgrim, who is crazed by the ordeal and won’t let anyone near him.

Except maybe Tom Booker, who lives on a ranch in Montana and coaxes horses out of their troubles for a living. Grace’s mother, Annie, a hard-edged New York magazine editor, persuades Tom to work his magic on the horse and retrieve her daughter’s spirits in the process. Annie doesn’t guess that she will fall under Tom’s spell too. But the reader does, and after the early chapters there’s not much to do but wait for the inevitable. But the book is not all bad news. There’s some fine psychological shading in the mother-daughter relationship and considerable authenticity of detail — horses, landscapes, kids. But then again, there were good moments in Waterworld, too. C-