Teenager Nealy Coleman lives on a horse ranch with her brutal father, her two brothers Rhye and Pyne (where did Fern Michaels get those names?!) and her illegitimate daugther Emmie. Mr. Coleman is constantly threatening to put Emmie (who will not speak) in the orphanage and one day when Nealy is practically comatose with the flu, he calls the orphanage and tells them to come and get Emmie. Rhye and Pyne sneak Nealy the keys to a truck, give her 400 dollars and tell her to take Emmie and run away to Kentucky, where a young woman with her horse skills can get a job.
So Nealy drives from Virginia to Kentucky (with the flu!) and passes out on a big horse farm. How convenient. There she is taken in by the owners Maude and Jess, who love her to pieces and become the mother and father she never had. Maude is a long time horse breeder who dreams of having a Kentucky Derby winner some day. Maude drinks about 16 ounces of bourbon a day to kill the pain from a broken back, although there’s no explanation as to why she doesn’t see a doctor. Pretty soon Nealy (who is a natural with horses – of course) is as happy as a colt in clover, or at least as happy her whiny, moody self can be. Nealy grows up, Maude and Jess adopt her and when they die, they leave her the farm and all their money – about 47 million dollars worth.
Time marches on. Does Nealy fulfill Maude’s dream? Does she win the Kentucky Derby? Well, no – she wins the triple crown! And not only that, she breeds the winning horse, trains it and even rides it herself (she’s only a size 2). Then things really begin to happen: Nealy falls in love, gets married, has a child, adopts another child, Emmie finally speaks, Nealy confronts her brothers, Nealy finds long lost relatives, and so on and so on and so on, until we have the set up for the next novel in the series, Kentucky Heat. Will I read it? Only under threat of extreme torture.
I am a fast reader – really fast, but it took me a long time to read Kentucky Rich because I couldn’t stand to read more than a few pages at a time. This book was not just one I’d like to bang against the wall, I’d like to have sent it through a paper shredder. When it comes to my recreational reading, I don’t demand an elegant writing style or perfectly polished prose. I like a good story, simply told, and don’t demand complexity at all. I have, in fact, wandered into thickets of sentences by Henry James and William Faulkner and come out lost and bewildered. But this book was written rather like the author had just finished a Dick and Jane primer. If a sentence had five words in it, that was a long one. There are potentially exciting incidents such as Nealy’s horse winning the Triple Crown that are dismissed with a couple of sentences, while pages upon pages are given over to Nealy’s musings on her every emotion. I felt like I was stuck in talk-show land.
As for the characters – I have only one thing to say about them. Unreal. I’ve seen dolls made of tissue paper that had more substance. Nealy flitted from one emotion to another like a drunken butterfly, many of her actions made no sense at all, and the time I spent in her head was enough to make me dizzy. And as for the secondary characters, ciphers all of them.
I know Fern Michaels is popular, but for the life of me I can’t figure out why. All the time I was reading Kentucky Rich, I was mentally editing it in my head, but finally I concluded that there was no way to salvage it. My own reading habits go like this – if I don’t like the first book by a new to me author, I give the author the three strikes and you’re out rule. This is the third Fern Michaels book I have read. Will I read another one? Only under threat of extreme – well, you know what.