LORD OF MISRULE by Jaimy Gordon

Book Quote:

“I tell you a secret, horse racing is not no science. Some of em tries to make it a science, with the drugs and the chemicals and that, but ma’fact, it’s more like a religion. It’s a clouded thing. You can’t see through it. It comes down to a person’s beliefs.”

Book Review:

Review by Jill I. Shtulman  (DEC 2, 2010)

Most of us, when we think of horse racing, conjure up a mint-juleps-and-roses vision of the Kentucky Derby or perhaps, Churchill Downs, attended by jewel-studded rich folk dressed up in their finery with cash to burn.

But at the rock-bottom end of the sport, horse racing is a whole other world – a world inhabited by down-on-their-luck trainers and jockeys, loan sharks and crooks, gyps and hotwalkers. This is the world Jaimy Gordon takes on – Indian Mound Downs, where the horses are mostly aging, drugged, or lame and the trainers are as crooked and cynical as they come.

Into this world steps Maggie, a young, college-educated frizzly-haired, naïve girl who has hitched her wagon to her boyfriend Tommy’s star – a “young fool” with a scheme to rescue his failing stable. He intends to ship four down-and-out horses there, race them at long odds, take the money and run before anyone knows what’s happened. But Maggie and Tommy don’t really have a clue of what they’re up against – jaded and desperate men for whom horses mean nothing and people mean even less.

Jaimy Gordon knows her way around this world and she certainly knows her horses. Each of the four parts of the book is centered on an individual horse – Mr. Boll Weevil, Little Spinoza, Pelter, and the “devil horse” Lord of Misrule. These are horses filled with personality, treading their way into the flying mud with chopping legs and nostrils cavernous and flaring, neurotic as all hell, almost but not quite ready to live up to their potential. The descriptions of the horses and the races they enter and the conditions they endure are among the finest you’re ever likely to read.

Ms. Gordon’s idiosyncratic people are slightly less developed, mainly because they are down-and-out and trapped. Some of them shine: Medicine Ed, for example, who dispenses drugs to the horses is beautifully depicted and Maggie – and her cruel awakening – is also detailed with fine strokes. So is Two-Tie, Maggie’s gangster uncle who strives to be her protector. Others – including Tommy — are less so.

These lowlifes speak in their own racetrack patois (and it helps to at least be open to learning this patois); they are limited and restricted, unable to survive without the dust of the racetrack. It’s difficult to even think of them racetrack hanger-ons existing in the outside world — perhaps the one glaring fault of the novel. The characters become secondary to the world they live in, bit players who strut and fret their hour on stage when ultimately, they are mostly doomed.

Tommy reflects: “Now it all falls into place. Before, you thought you knew, and felt your way along blindly. And though this world is a black tunnel of love where the gods admonished you to search without rest for your lost twin, it’s also haired all over with false pointers, evil instructions, lost-forever dead-ends.”

There is a propulsive energy to Lord of Misrule, a voice that’s strong and original, and an intimate knowledge that’s in turn, poignant, comic, heartbreaking, and suspenseful. The surprise winner of the National Book Award this year, Lord of Misrule brings the reader right into the vortex of this seldom-seen world, squeezes hard, and does not let go.

AMAZON READER RATING: stars-5-0from 5 readers
PUBLISHER: McPherson; First Edition edition (November 15, 2010)
REVIEWER: Jill I. Shtulman
EXTRAS: Reading Guide and Excerpt

Gargoyle interview with Jaimy Gordon

MORE ON MOSTLYFICTION: Another horse novel:

The God of Animals by Aryn Kyle

And another set in West Virginia:

Lark and Termite by Jayne Anne Phillips


December 2, 2010 · Judi Clark · No Comments
Tags: , ,  · Posted in: 2011 Favorites, Contemporary, Literary, National Book Award Winner, US South, y Award Winning Author

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