Tommy Bedford grows up in Britain in the 1950s, idolizing the rugged American cowboys he sees on television. He finds joy in these heroes and escapes to their imaginary world, fleeing --- at least in his mind --- a home where there is little love. His much-older sister is beautiful, and he idolizes her. She is an actress who is working on her craft both on the stage and in films. Tommy is shipped off to a traditional boarding school --- a menacing and abusive place --- where he is tormented by the other boys for his bedwetting and ostracized until one day, at a family day event, his sister drives up looking in every way a star, and with her is the actor who plays his cowboy hero.
Diane sees how tormented her son is and decides to reveal a well-kept secret. She is not Tommy’s sister, but rather his mother. Diane was only a teenager when Tommy was conceived, so instead of having the stigma of bearing a child out of wedlock, she told no one except her family about the birth and arranged for her parents to raise the boy as their own. At first this worked, but through time, Tommy has become a distant and eccentric child, more focused on his TV shows than anything else. Diane has matured and wants her boy back, realizing she can support him as an actress in the American film world. She sees her mistakes clearly and recognizes that he belongs with her
Tommy is understandably shocked by this reveal, but Diane is a loving mother to whom he has always been close. He settles into his new life, and the world starts to look up. Big offers are coming in for Diane from bigwigs in Hollywood, and Tommy meets some of his childhood idols, most notably the actor who played his favorite character on TV: Ray Montane. Ray happens to be Diane's new live-in boyfriend, a choice she made partly because she believed her son would approve. Ray seeks to rise above his meager acting skills in hopes of landing roles on the big screen, and Tommy initially sees in Ray everything that he wants to be: a real cowboy, a lone hero coming to the rescue with fists clenched, the rugged, strong man who believes in justice.
Naturally, it comes as quite a shock that truth matters much more than appearances do. Soon --- but much too late --- Diane discovers that Ray isn't the man she thought he was. Overcome by passion and the need to matter, Diane marries Ray before discovering his true nature. He's a jealous husband who resents her and the attention she's getting, and while he struts and shows his bravado, starting brawls with the on-site movie staff and other people, she begins to understand she's made a mistake. Tommy recognizes this before his mother does and has the rare privilege of meeting a real hero when he gets to know a cowboy in California: Ray's stunt double. This is a man who knows horses and speaks English as well as a particularly poetic dialect of the Blackfeet tribe, who stands unnoticed on the sidelines amongst the stars, seeking silence and good company and showing consistent respect.
There are both counterfeit cowboys and real ones in this story of truth and bravery and the life of a rising British star who's spellbound by the spectacle of Hollywood. In THE BRAVE, as in Nicholas Evans's blockbuster, THE HORSE WHISPERER, readers will get to see a glorious stretch of simplicity and bliss on a beautiful Montana ranch where life slows down near to stopping and the outside world doesn't intrude. But this reprieve is agonizingly brief, and the lights and splendor and fakery of Hollywood awaits, trying courage and prying one loving mother away from her sweet son.
THE BRAVE tells two stories: the ill-fated tale of Tommy Bedford's mother, and the later story of Tommy's life once he comes to terms with what happened and has the chance to help his own son. They unfold on parallel tracks in alternating chapters, and Evans does an excellent job of maintaining clarity and tension and keeping his ideas strong. The dialogue varies greatly as Evans moves from one character to the next, revealing much about individual natures. By the end, the persona of the quiet, unknown hero stands apart and becomes inspirational.
THE BRAVE is similar to THE HORSE WHISPERER, not in the story itself but in some themes and the tragic consequences that bring to mind ideas like integrity and inner peace. There are good reasons we read books like these: to appreciate simplicity and to understand what makes the man, the everyday hero, who possesses the innate power to calm, honor and command our respect.
Reviewed by Melanie Smith on November 3, 2011