Friday, April 6, 2012

Lord of Misrule

If you missed this novel when it first came out, race to read it now. Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule is, on the surface, a book about horse racing, but there is so much below the surface in this novel.

This is not horse racing as "the sport of kings"; rather it is a story set at the racetracks where the horses and their trainers, jockeys, and grooms are simply struggling to survive. The particular setting of this track is Indian Mounds Downs, downriver from Wheeling, West Virginia.

Each of the characters has a very different voice in which the story is told and a very different temperament. The reader comes to know horseman Tommy Hansel, veteran groom Medicine Ed, Kidstuff the blacksmith, old lady “gyp” Deucey Gifford, stall superintendent Suitcase Smithers, the ominous leading trainer, Joe Dale Bigg, and the ruled-off “racetrack financier” Two-Tie. But, it is Tommy's girlfriend Maggie Koderer who is the heart of this book. To quote the book jacket: "Like the beautiful, used-up, tragic horses she comes to love, Maggie has just enough heart to wire everyone’s flagging hopes back to the source of all luck."

Each of the four major sections features a different horse in a different race. There are many moments when the reader will fear for one of the characters, human or equine. The drama of the characters' lives and of the horse races is excitingly and vividly portrayed. The language of the characters is rough, yet exquisitely poetic. Lord of Misrule was a winner, of the National Book Award in 2010. Read the book to find out what happens to the horse named Lord of Misrule. You do not have to know or understand horse racing to understand this book. "Yet and still," as Medicine Ed says, "Yet and still."

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