Friday, February 11, 2011

Lord of Misrule

Looks like I'm wrapping up the horse racing reading for the time being. Started the trend with fiction and ended it with such. Just like Art of Losing was dark, I almost felt like I had to shower every time I put down Lord of Misrule. The 2010 National Book Award winner for fiction, it takes place at a podunk race track in West Virginia, the absolute bottom rung of thoroughbred horse racing. Every chapter is told from the perspective of one member of a motley crew of characters. The way author Jaimy Gordon writes, though, it often takes a few paragraphs to figure out just who is telling the story this time. The book is divided into four sections, each of them relating to a horse that intertwines all the characters.

The book is about all of the characters and none of them. They range from those struggling to eke out an existence to those trying to maintain their status as a big fish in a teeny-tiny pond. A puddle, if you will. The horses at this level aren't Secretariat. At best, they're Secretariat after he's gone infertile, suffered through injuries and can hardly run anymore.

I've always been fascinated by the lower levels of horse racing where the purses are such that owners almost have to win just to cover their expenses. I often have wondered about the people involved with these races; the track operators, the jockeys, the trainers. Gordon gives one possibility of those types of people. You have people who race at that level because they love racing. There are those do it because they don't know what else to do. Some have had bad luck.

Like The Art of Losing, you never shake that foreboding feeling. There are a number of outright bad guys and their presence, coupled with the conditions at the track, left me feeling dirty. That says a lot about Gordon's writing as much as anything. She doesn't quite use dialects but she captures the rural, uneducated essence of most of the characters.

Much more so than Dixon's book, this book is for readers who appreciate good fiction, regardless of an interest in horse racing. I'm not sure Dixon has the universal appeal. And although Gordon's story has a slightly happier ending, the overall darkness and the difficulties keeping the characters straight make it less than perfect. It's still great and worth reading.

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