Wednesday, March 23, 2016

LORD OF MISRULE by Jaimy Gordon

Before reading this book, all I knew about horses and horse racing I learned from the novel Seabiscuit.  Now I know a little about claiming races and what it was like to be involved in West Virginia claiming races in the 1970s, because the author immerses the reader in this milieu quite effectively.  Keeping up was a bit challenging for me, as the author tells the story from the perspective of several characters but all in third person, except the chapters devoted to Tommy Hansel, which are in second person.  Plus, there are no quotation marks so that it is difficult to discern what is dialog and what is just in the head of the character.  The chapters are grouped into sections, each named for a horse who will be racing in that section.  First we meet Medicine Ed, an old groom who dabbles in alchemy and potions.  His observations are the keenest and most reliable throughout.  Maggie is a young woman who formerly wrote food articles but now works for Tommy, a newcomer who is trying to make a quick buck with four horses.  He and Maggie are lovers, but Joe Dale Bigg, a vile and dangerous gangster/trainer, has his eye on Maggie as well.  Two-Tie, who literally wears two bow ties, is the local “financier,” i.e., loan shark, who happens to be Maggie’s uncle.  His mission is to protect Maggie, with some help from Medicine Ed, but her safety is anything but assured in this world of rough and tumble outlaws and wackos.  This book has it all—sex, violence, adventure, suspense--and the sadness that is the life of some of the horses, racing into old age.  The horses are characters unto themselves, each with his own unique personality, buffeted from one owner to another, like unfortunate pawns in a vengeful chess match.  I liked the unusual format and subject matter, but I couldn’t develop any real empathy for the human characters.  I was, however, caught up in their lifestyle that was so alien to me, but I didn’t bond with them.

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