White Horses by Alice Hoffman


Not an easy read, this book follows the story of Teresa, a young girl on the verge of womanhood whose unhappy mother has raised her to look for an idealised heroic man, what her grandfather called Arias, wild men who ride out of the desert on white horses and steal hearts. The image is personified in her brother, Silver, her mothers favourite child, who she over indulges to the point of ruining him, and to the image of whom, no man can stand up in Teresa’s heart.

Whilst feeding her these dreams, her mother longs for change from her bleak life with the violent and cold father of her children, and her silent past. But by feeding her these dreams, Teresa becomes somewhat of a sleeping beauty: to escape her life she falls into long sleeps that only her brother Silver can rescue her from. Her obsession with him, his narcissistic nature, and the neglectful nature of her home life lead her into careless and dangerous relations as she grows up, and though her family changes, her feelings for her brother do not, leading her into dark places and unnatural relationship.

This is perhaps the least comfortable of Alice Hoffman’s books to read. The way in which the brother is set up as a heroic figure and the daughter given no protection or means of navigating life from her parents leads her to make decisions that are pretty terrible, including sleeping with her brother. The book revolves around their feelings for each other, and Teresa’s blind resolve to wait for him, since he is the only Aria she has ever seen and the only person she has been able to feel close to.

It made me think of other books of it’s era, like VC Andrews gothic romances, with themes of family abuse, tragedy and incest. But whilst Andrews books revolve around captive, wealthy teenage girls, here there is more a fairytale, mythic theme, set amongst the suburban Californian life. I didn’t really like this book, because of the subject and the nature of the story, but there are some important things said about the way in which the girl is doomed by her parents grooming to follow the path that she chooses, and ultimately, she makes better decisions, but it’s not a happy path that takes her there. But there are some truly beautiful moments and excellent prose in this novel too.

Read It If: you’re a die hard fan of Hoffman, I found it beautiful but disturbing.

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