Sunday, August 17, 2008

Horse Heaven


Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley was originally published in 2000. My hardcover copy is 561 pages. This is a massive book covering two years in the lives of people and horses involved in the world of horse racing. While it is a very enjoyable book, in the end the various stories involving the huge cast of characters were not resolved as well as they might have been if the writing had been tightened up a little more. Rating: 4

From Publishers Weekly, at Amazon:
[T]his novel about horses and their breeders, owners, trainers, grooms, jockeys, traders, bettors and other turf-obsessed humans is another winner. Smiley, it turns out, knows a prodigious amount about Thoroughbreds, and she is as good at describing the stages of their lives, their temperaments and personalities as she is in chronicling the ambitions, financial windfalls and ruins, love affairs, partings and reconciliations of her large cast of human characters. With settings that range from California and Kentucky to Paris, the novel covers two years in which the players vie with each other to produce a mount that can win high-stakes races. Readers will discover that hundreds of things can go wrong with a horse, from breeding through birth, training and racing, and that every race has variables and hazards that can produce danger and death, as well as the loss of millions of dollars. (A scene in which one horse stumbles and sets off a chain reaction of carnage is heartbreaking.) Characters who plan, scheme, connive and yearn for a winner include several greedy, impetuous millionaires and their wives; one trainer who is a model of rectitude, and another who has found Jesus but is crooked to the core; two preadolescent, horse-obsessed kids; a knockout black woman whose beauty is the entrance key to the racing world; the horses themselves (cleverly, Smiley depicts a horse communicator who can see into the equine mind); and one very sassy Jack Russell dog. Written with high spirits and enthusiasm, distinguished by Smiley's wry humor (as in Moo), the novel gallops into the home stretch without losing momentum. Fans of A Thousand Acres may feel that Smiley has deserted the realm of serious literature for suspense and romance, but this highly readable novel shows that she can perform in both genres. Random House Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Quotes:
"Now Eileen trotted into the room. It was clear to Mr. Maybrick that the dog was intentionally ignoring him." pg. 12

""A Thoroughbred is not a natural phenomenon. His mommy and daddy didn't fall in love, get married and decide to have a baby. None of these horses would be here if they weren't meant to race and win. The breeder is their God and the racetrack is their destiny and running is their work, and any other way of looking at it is getting things pretty mixed up, if you ask me." pg. 16

"If your mother was determined to see your life choices as a set of symptoms - depression, isolation, horse-obsession, overwork, no love life - then it was very hard to convince her that what these really amounted to was a sense of calm and peace, lively interest in a fascinating animal species, plenty to keep you busy, and a choice not to repeat old mistakes." pg. 25

"Rosalind saw that, if you had enough self-possession, you could reconnoiter, plan ahead, take your time. It went beyond being careful. Being careful was something you did if you were in a rush. If you were self-possessed, you never had to be in a rush." pg. 30

" 'You're saying he thinks anything he buys is a bargain.'
'No matter what the cost.' " pg. 72

"But in his family, the thing is, you never buy it. You learn it. There isn't even any discussion about it. When you can't think what to do next, you enroll." pg. 266

"Sometimes, in spite of yourself and everything you knew about appearances' being deceiving, even though you were ages old and had been in the horse business all your life and had seen every deceptive appearance fall away to reveal the plain and sometimes ugly reality within, even though you had a wife and kids who had kids of their own and you knew in your very bones that beauty was the most fleeting of all, appearances ravished you anyway, and gave you the strange sensation of a finger running up your spine and tickling the back of your neck until you thought that, if you weren't in public every day, surrounded by cynical and hard-bitten men, you might tremble at it." pg. 172

1 comment:

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