The Rumpus Interview

Thank you to The Rumpus for this freewheeling interview with brilliant writer Angela Pneuman. THE RUMPUS INTERVIEW WITH THOMAS H. MCNEELY BY ANGELA PNEUMAN January 7th, 2015 In Thomas H. McNeely’s breathtaking debut novel, Ghost Horse, Buddy Turner’s family has fragmented around issues of betrayal, class, and race. Father, mother, grandmothers on both sides—these adults repeatedly expose the boy to their anxious misgivings and covert desires. His friends, too, are part of the shifting terrain of 1970s Houston and the products of their own troubled homes. Their interaction is marked by tenderness, violence, and inscrutable sexuality. The Super-8 movie the boys are planning, about a ghostly, rescuing horse, explores both pain and the fantasy of comfort; the film becomes—like narrative itself—a shared goal, an escape, and one of several weapons the boys end up using against each other. Released in October 2014, Ghost Horse is the recipient of the 2013 Gival Press Novel Award. The book has already been widely praised by critics, but my favorite remarks come from Stephen Burt, author of Belmont and Close Calls with Nonsense: ”McNeely’s prose—superbly attentive to what goes on in Buddy’s head, and why—sets up scenes few readers will forget: it’s a novel whose beautiful sentences match the wrong-way turns, the blood-red futilities, and the available insights, of its rough lives.” McNeely’s writing has an incantatory feel as Buddy ruminates over significant memories, testing them for accuracy and insight. What is real? is an implied question throughout. The book takes an unflinching look at how one’s perception of oneself, others, and the world is formed—and how on earth we might begin to make sense of it all. McNeely grew up in Houston and graduated from the University of Texas at Austin, where he reviewed films for The Daily Texan. After college he became an investigator for The Texas Resource Center, a public interest law firm that represented death row prisoners during their appeals. This experience became the basis for his first published story, “Sheep,” which appeared in the Atlantic while McNeely was still an MFA student at Emerson College. He went on to receive several awards, including the Wallace Stegner Fellowship. McNeely currently teaches in the Stanford Online Writers’ Studio and the Emerson College Honors Program. *** The Rumpus: You set Ghost Horse in Houston in the mid-1970s, and this unforgettable place plays a heavy role—neighborhoods near Rice University vs. neighborhoods near Hughes Tool, parochial schools (exclusive and less-so), freeways, vacant lots, oil barges, chain-link fences, dogs kept in pens. And everything about...

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KUT Radio

Listen here to KUT Austin Public Radio’s brief spot:   MEET “GHOST HORSE” AUTHOR THOMAS MCNEELY By MIKE LEE Thomas McNeely was named a Dobie Paisano Fellow in 2000, and has just published Ghost Horse, the novel he began during that fellowship. It’s largely autobiographical, focusing on an eleven-year-old boy growing up, as McNeely did, in mid-1970s Houston. That was a time of great transition and social tension in Houston; McNeely remembers it as a time when society made it, “after a certain age… not okay anymore” to be friends with kids of other races. Buddy Turner, the protagonist of Ghost Horse, is feeling himself pulled by outside forces away from his longtime best friend, Alex Torres. Between that and his parents’ impending divorce, Buddy’s in a difficult and transitional period at a young age. Art helps Buddy cope with his circumstances — he and his friends are working to create an animated Super 8 movie about the titular Ghost Horse. And as he learns more about his past, he starts to discover what he considers the “real movie,” the truth about his own...

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The Boston Globe

A capsule review by Laura Collins-Hughes: Children of 1970s divorce, your book is here. Glib but true: In “Ghost Horse,” his lucid debut novel, Cambridge author Thomas H. McNeely has captured something harrowing about an era of chaos and unease. “Tell me the truth,” 11-year-old Buddy’s mother says to his father, who isn’t coming home to live with them. “Tell me what’s really going on.” But it’s Buddy, an only child, who’s more often pumped for intel. The various factions in his family push and pull, asking him to lie or spy, carry messages, take sides. Fantasy encroaches on reality, and art is a vital escape from insecurity and omnipresent dread. If Buddy gets good at betrayal, who taught him...

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Austin-American Statesman

Charles Ealey’s soulful review in the Austin-American Statesman: “Ghost Horse” tracks a troubled adolescence in Houston By Charles Ealy – American-Statesman Staff Houston native Thomas H. McNeely explores the heartbreak and confusion of adolescence through the eyes of an 11-year-old boy who is slowly losing his family — and his friends — in his debut novel “Ghost Horse.” It’s a shattering portrait, not only in the ways that divorce can unhinge a boy’s life, but also in the ways that wayward adults can corrupt childhood innocence. + “Ghost Horse,” by Thomas H. McNeely The protagonist of “Ghost Horse” is Buddy Turner, who has just graduated from fifth grade in 1975 and is working on a Super 8 movie about a flying, heroic horse with his best friend, Alex Torres. But the social mores of Houston play a big role in “Ghost Horse,” too. Buddy, it seems, is a boy out of sync with the times. His best friend is Hispanic, something not acceptable in certain Houston circles. His mother, Margot, works in a medical laboratory, yet another violation of the norm, where mothers usually stay at home. And his father, Jimmy, a pathologist, is absent, having left his family behind to finish medical school in Detroit, then going to Fort Polk, La., to finish his military service. And when his father returns to Houston, he tells Buddy’s mother that he wants a divorce. Buddy’s grandparents aren’t much better. His paternal grandmother is from a wealthy, tree-lined neighborhood near Rice University and looks down upon her daughter-in-law. She wants her son to get custody of Buddy and bring him to the better side of town, where he can attend private school. + Author Thomas H. McNeely. Courtesy of Thomas H. McNeely Buddy’s maternal grandmother isn’t a model citizen either. She sits around the house, chain-smoking, but at least seems to have shed some of the prejudices that were common to the era. As the novel progresses, however, it’s clear that Buddy is being pulled in different directions by his parents. His father has a new woman in his life, and he wants to marry her and take Buddy, too. But he pleads with Buddy not to tell his mother about the new relationship. His mother, meanwhile, grills Buddy after his weekly visits to his father’s house, wanting to know about any possible women in his father’s life and what Grandmother...

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Kirkus Reviews

A Texas boy grapples with his parents’ estrangement in McNeely’s debut novel. Eleven-year-old Buddy lives with his mother in 1970s Houston at a time when proper, white middle-class living means that mothers don’t work, parents don’t divorce, and white children don’t befriend the Mexican children down the street. Buddy’s young life has missed all these supposed marks of propriety: His mother, Margot, works in a hospital laboratory; his absentee father, Jimmy, has blown back into town and wants a divorce; and Buddy spends much of his time with his Latino best friend, Alex, who’s working on a film about a ghost horse. Buddy’s torment slowly, steadily grows throughout this sensitive novel as his immature father and his bafflingly stubborn mother make him choose between them again and again. His cold grandparents, meanwhile, only exacerbate the bitter divide. He finally tries to find solace in a new friendship with a fellow student whose home life is similarly caustic. As he struggles to survive the failures of the adults around him, he careens down a path of unhappiness and destruction. McNeely beautifully portrays the confusion of a boy doing his best to deal with matters that are beyond his understanding but fully capable of doing him harm (“He wishes a sheet of fire would cut through the yard; he wishes [his mother] would disappear. But the questions still pulse, there, in the darkness: What will happen when his father comes back?”). The author effectively shows how evil is not born but made; as the grown-ups continue to pile their burdens on him, something hateful begins to bloom in Buddy that wasn’t there before. Overall, the novel will be a haunting read for anyone who’s experienced the childhood anguish of divorce and a powerful reminder to mothers and fathers of the unseen damage that their behavior can inflict on their children. A dark, deeply stirring novel about the quiet tragedy of growing up in a broken family....

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Library Journal

Thank you to Associate Editor Lisa Peet for this thumbnail notice in Library Journal: Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ I recently finished a wonderful under-the-radar book coming out in October, Ghost Horse by Thomas H. McNeely (Gival Pr.). It’s a coming-of-age (but only barely) story about a young boy and his fragmented family, shifting alliances, burgeoning racial awareness, and a Super-8 movie about the eponymous Ghost Horse. The writing is sensitive, beautiful, and ominous throughout—I hate when people use lazy author mashups to define a book, but I can’t resist: it’s 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. The book’s not on Amazon or Powell’s or anyplace else you might think of to find it; this one’s an ideal candidate to order through your local indie bookstore. And for her kind comments on Goodreads: This was very well done, though a bit shattering in the end… kind of like if Cormac McCarthy and Denis Johnson teamed up to write a coming-of-age novel set in 1970 Houston. Beautiful writing, at the same time bleak, and very textural-I’m still mulling it over in my mind. Absolutely a terrific debut...

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