Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review: Reckless: The Racehorse Who Became a Marine Corps Hero

Reckless: The Racehorse Who Became a Marine Corps Hero
By Tom Clavin
NAL, August 2014

About the Book

Her Korean name was Ah-Chim-Hai—Flame-of-the-Morning. A four-year-old chestnut-colored Mongolian racehorse with a white blaze down her face and three white stockings, she once amazed the crowds in Seoul with her remarkable speed. But when war shut down the tracks, the star racer was soon sold to an American Marine and trained to carry heavy loads of artillery shells up and down steep hills under a barrage of bullets and bombs. The Marines renamed her Reckless.

Reckless soon proved fearless under fire, boldly marching alone through the fiery gauntlet, exposed to explosions and shrapnel. For months, her drive and determination kept the Marines’ guns blazing, while inspiring them with her singular charm. During one day of battle alone, she made fifty-one trips up and down a crucial hill, covering at least thirty-five miles in the heat of combat. On some of her uphill treks, Reckless shielded human reinforcements. The Chinese, soon discovering the unique bravery of this magnificent animal, made a special effort to kill her. But Reckless never slowed. As months passed and the enemy grew bolder, the men came to appreciate her not just as a horse but as a weapon, and eventually, as a fellow Marine.

My Review

The story itself is intriguing: a courageous mare plucked from a racetrack becomes one of the Marine Corps’ most valuable assets during the Korean War, but to view this as another version of War Horse would be a mistake. The dialogue is stilted and Reckless herself is often treated as an afterthought, making occasional appearances in between long descriptions of military formations and battles. The book is much more about the hardships and experiences of individual Marines serving during the war, which is fine, but is not what one would expect from the book’s title. It seems that there wasn’t enough to uncover about Reckless’ life, and therefore a substantial amount of filler was needed to create the book. Sentences such as “He wasn’t thinking of Reckless’s feelings, though they were very important to him” weaken the story.

Furthermore, it’s apparent from the writing that Clavin knows little about horses as he describes Reckless as “sired by a stallion . . . and therefore half stallion but would always be described as a Mongolian mare”. As every horse on earth is “sired by a stallion” (a stallion being an uncastrated male horse), it would be like saying I’m described as a woman, but I am technically half male because my father is a male. Errors like that undermine the author’s authority on the subject and should have been caught by an editor. Clavin also tends to anthropomorphize the horse, as if to put the reader inside the horse’s head, and that gives the impression that the subject is a little girl, not an animal.

Reckless lived out her retirement at Camp Pendleton, where she remained until her death in 1968. It is undeniable that this mare’s story deserves an audience, but unfortunately, Reckless deserves a story better than the one written in this book’s pages. For those interested in hearing more about the story of Reckless, you can find her story on YouTube and Facebook.

Rebecca Henderson Palmer

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