A Horse Named Sorrow
Trebor Healey’s new novel, A Horse Named Sorrow (248 pages, Univesrity of Wisconsin, $26.95), tells the bittersweet story of young love in San Francisco in the 1980s. Seamus falls in love with Jimmy the first time he seems him wheeling his bike along the streets of San Francisco. Jimmy says he has ridden his bike from New York State, and Seamus finds the young vagabond sexy and appealing. He invites the boy home and they have a good time, but Jimmy is off again before morning. Seamus realizes he has fallen in love, and it takes him a long time to find Jimmy again. Jimmy is happy to see Seamus too, but he is ill and he wanted to protect the other boy. But Seamus is committed and he cares for Jimmy till the end, promising him that he will return his ashes to Buffalo, New York, his home.
Seamus decides, however, to travel back across the country in the same manner that Jimmy arrived, by bicycle. So off he goes, on Jimmy’s bike, with Jimmy’s ashes on the handlebars. As crazy as this scheme might seem, it emerges out of Seamus’s love for Jimmy, and Healey is wonderful at creating this deeply felt compulsion that for Seamus is the only possible response to loss and longing.
The trip itself is one of the wonderful road trips in American fiction. Seamus encounters all the misfits and marginal characters of the great American homeland, and his attempt to carry Jimmy to safety engages him with souls as lost as he is. If this trip teaches Seamus about loss, it also begins to give his life the meaning he thought it lacked. Healey gets inside Seamus in a way that teaches us what it means to be caught up in the misery of love and loss.
It would be a cliché to say that Seamus discovers himself as he travels east with Jimmy’s ashes, but it is not a cliché as you watch this happen to a young man coming to terms with grief. Healey creates the power of young love and the devastating effect it has on the two young men who experience it. The bicycle trip puts the power of that love into terms that everyone can understand. Seamus cannot put words to his grief, but then he does not really have to. Instead he gives it the shape of this journey, which transforms him and starts to make him whole again.