Gulf Coast

Special thanks to Adrienne Perry at Gulf Coast for this wonderful review: In the summer of 2013, I moved from Wyoming to Houston. My loved ones warned me against it; they were wary of heat and humidity, cockroaches as big as your thumbs, traffic jams, sex trafficking, and oil spills in the Gulf. Now I realize these friends were working with an image of Houston circa 1970, a decade that witnessed Houston schools’ (long overdue) desegregation, Dean Corll’s killing spree, and a truck carrying ammonia that crashed into the Southwest Freeway, releasing clouds of toxic fumes. Mercifully, the Houston that greeted me, though not without its woes, was nothing so grim. Think: complicated beauty. Thomas McNeely’s first novel, Ghost Horse, reminds me why Houston put my nervous Nellies on edge. While nothing in the novel is grotesque, both psychological and literal violence smolder throughout. At times, that violence arises from the environment: a man has been dragged out of the nearby bayou, the characters carry the memory of boys murdered in a field, a husband hits his wife. More often the novel’s tensions feed on divisions—racial, class, gender, and geographic rifts—present in the Houston of then and (somewhat less so) now. Add to those divisions compressed prose delivered in the present tense, and the reader hurtles forward into a productively unsettling story that involves the rupture of virtually every aspect of a budding adolescent’s life. Ghost Horse is in good company with other novels that reveal what a brutal business coming of age can be. For Buddy Turner, the novel’s protagonist, imagination is the number one way to find reprieve from his parents’ unraveling marriage, uncertain friendships, and the shifting, tested allegiances at home and school. When the novel opens in the summer before sixth grade, the mythic superheroes and monsters of Buddy’s favorite films and television shows mold his brain and its imaginative landscapes. Star Wars, vampires, Godzilla, and the B movies radiating out of boxy televisions amp Buddy and his friend Alex Torres up on hefty doses of horror-delight and inspire the boys to make Ghost Horse, their own movie. These two working-class boys growing up in Houston in 1976 see their movie and “the Horse” at its core as a ticket to a Technicolor life where the bullies who call them fat and gay can no longer touch them. Though Alex spends hours drawing the mysterious Horse and...

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Small Press Picks

I am grateful for this perceptive review of Ghost Horse by Beth Castrodale at Small Press Picks!

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Lone Star Literary Life

Thank you to Kay Ellington for this feature interview and review of Ghost Horse on their brand-new Texas literary website.  LSLL is providing an important service as a meeting place and sounding board for the Texas literary scene.

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The Atticus Review

Thank you to Michelle Newby for this thoughtful review in The Atticus Review. CINEMATOGRAPHY AND DISASSOCIATION IN TEXAS: A REVIEW OF GHOST HORSE BY THOMAS H. MCNEELY By Michelle Newby February 12, 2015 0 Ghost Horse by Thomas H. McNeely Gival Press, September 2014 260 pages, $20 Reviewed by Michelle Newby Thomas H. McNeely’s Ghost Horse, winner of the Gival Press Novel Award, follows eleven-year-old Buddy Turner, on the cusp of puberty, as he tries to make sense of an adult Wonderland where everything is not as it seems. Buddy and his best friend Alex Torres want to make movies. The eponymous Ghost Horse is the combination animation/live action short they’re working on when Buddy’s life turns inside out and upside down. Knowing the illusions made possible in movies, Buddy is always trying to determine which movie of his life is the real one. His father’s version? His mother’s? His Grandmother’s? Which version is his? He uses the language and techniques of movie making to disassociate when circumstances become too much for him to process. The movie serves as a metaphor for the upheaval in his world and the premise of the movie morphs as Buddy’s world changes, reflecting his desperate wish for a superhero to fix everything, to set the world right side up and dispense justice. Buddy expects his father to be this hero but when his father proves to be all-too-human Buddy tries to assume this responsibility. His mission is to bring his father home. Ghost Horse is set in 1970s Houston with all the attendant strife between Anglos and Latinos. Buddy lives with his mother and attends Catholic school in a neighborhood undergoing changes as the population of Hispanics increases and White Flight accelerates. Buddy’s life is in turmoil as his separated parents attempt to straighten out their future and drag Buddy along for the unhappy ride. His father has moved in with Buddy’s grandmother, Gramma Turner, on the “right” side of town, and she has been allowed to insist that Buddy change schools because she pays the tuition. Buddy’s father, Jimmy, is engaged in a campaign of appeasement with Gramma Turner. “Look,” [he tells Buddy],”We just have to tell my mother what she wants to hear for a while, then we can do what we want.” Buddy’s new parochial school has an Anglo population and is seemingly staffed with Eagle Forum marionettes who allow...

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San Antonio Current

Thank you to Nan Cuba, author of Body and Bread, winner of the PEN Southwest Award and Steven Turner Award for Fiction, for this interview in the San Antonio Current. Authors At Work: Nan Cuba interviews Thomas McNeely click to enlarge Courtesy Although writer Thomas McNeely lives in Boston, he’s actually from Houston, the setting for his novel, Ghost Horse. Lisa Peet, in Library Journal, says: “The writing is sensitive, beautiful, and ominous throughout … as if Cormac McCarthy and Denis Johnson teamed up to write a 1970s Texas YA novel that went off the rails somewhere — in a very, very good way.” McNeely’s novel and mine, Body and Bread, have similarities: Texas in the 1970s, a child’s perspective, the subject of race, mythological imagery and a person coping with loss. As the founder of Gemini Ink and writer in residence at Our Lady of the Lake University, I was curious about his craft choices, so our conversation begins with this interview and will culminate with a joint reading Saturday at the Twig Book Shop. Both my novel, Body and Bread, and yours, Ghost Horse, depict their central character’s reaction to loss — in the case of Body and Bread, Sarah Pelton’s loss of her brother, Sam, to suicide; in Ghost Horse, 11-year-old Buddy Turner faces a series of Hobson’s choices between his mother and father, old and new friends. How did you see these experiences of loss shaping your character and the voice that narrated the book? In Ghost Horse, my hero, Buddy Turner, is desperately trying to weave together a narrative as his family keeps unraveling, and to understand the social forces at work around him, especially about race. One reviewer said that Buddy doesn’t have a coherent self from which to narrate. That was exactly the place from which I wanted to write. Frankly, it was very difficult. I had to develop a kind of metaphorical language through which Buddy could express to himself what is happening, because he could not do so abstractly. Ghost Horse reminds me of the Jane Smiley novella, Good Will, which seems to be a cautionary tale about what happens when you don’t pay attention to the effects your behavior has on your children. Would you say your story could be described that way? I think that makes a lot of sense. I wanted to examine what was being taught to kids at that time. I’ve...

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Offcite Blog

Thank you to Allyn West at OffCite, the blog of Cite Magazine, and my brother Sean McNeely for this review and photo essay on Telephone Road, the setting and inspiration for Ghost Horse. Offcite Blog | Design. Houston. Architecure. Photos: Sean McNeely. ALLYN WEST FEB. 19, 2015 9:37 AM A Much Wilder Place: A Review of Tom McNeely’sGhost Horse Reviews Thomas McNeely’s new novel, Ghost Horse (2014, Gival Press, 246 pages) is set in Houston in the 1970s. Not coincidentally, it’s a difficult book to read. The characters lead difficult lives, some broken by divorce and others shadowed by fear, child abuse, domestic violence. The lines between race and class are sharply drawn and harshly spoken; the novel turns when the main character, Buddy, a young boy whose parents are separated, plays a cruel prank on a friend and spits a racial epithet at him. Much of the action takes place in the car, as Buddy, the novel’s main character, is shuttled back and forth between a private school where he struggles to make friends and his mother’s house near Telephone Road. As good as McNeely is at bringing Buddy’s confusion and frustration to life, as the boy tries to figure out whether he ought to align himself with his father, or mother, or both, or neither, he is even better at capturing the ambiguity of Houston’s built environment, especially in the neighborhoods near Telephone: “All the way back to his mother’s house,” McNeely writes, “past El Destino Club #2, where purple lights revolve, and Tellepsen Tool, where sparks shower night and day, and Andrew Jackson Grammar School’s cement playground, enclosed in a barbed-wire fence; past the orange duplexes at the end of his mother’s street, whose porch roofs sag like heavy-lidded eyes, where Mexican children stare at his father’s car, then vanish into the houses, or around corners, or under gutted cars.” Descriptions like that, creating an unsettling setting that engulfs the characters, pop up every few pages. Or like this: “In the distance is the Astrodome, an ancient, enormous UFO, and between them and it, in the yellowish haze, endless blocks of apartment complexes, convenience stores, mini-malls.” Or like this: “They cross a wide, curving road that follows the curve of the bayou, where teenagers race cars. On the side of the road opposite the bayou is a shadowy park, where no one goes, even in daytime, and past...

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