Riding Lessons is Sara Gruen's debut novel and if this is her first novel, I cannot imagine what masterful work will come next. Her writing is sensitive and superb and her knowledge of horses and the world-class competitive equestrian world is stunning. Every writer must study up on certain topics in order to realistically incorporate it into their work, but Gruen clearly is an expert in horses and horsemanship.
At the heart of her story is Annemarie Zimmer who nearly made it to the Olympics but at eighteen saw her dream and life shattered when she suffers a fatal injury that nearly left her crippled for life and destroys the horse she worshiped. Though she recovers physically, she never fully recovers emotionally and she lives the equestrian dreams behind to become a wife, mother and career professional. Suddenly everything unravels. As if losing her job, and husband isn't enough, Annemarie must also return home to her dying father and hardened mother. Her relationship with her teenage daughter is falling apart and Annemarie is so emotionally fragile from past wounds and her present circumstances she begins a slow descent into destruction that nearly undoes her.
Annemarie comes to symbolize lost youth and childhood wounds. At times the story is almost too painful to read, but when things seem darkest, Gruen gives us new hope tied to an amazingly beautiful but imperfect horse who enters Annemarie's life and gives her a second chance. This was a book I had difficulty putting down. I give it five stars out of five. You can't do better than that.