Wednesday, June 6, 2012

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? by Horace McCoy 
copyright© 1935
Open Road e-edition 2012
ISBN:  9781453246726  
In McCoy's stunning portrait of poverty and powerlessness during the Great Depression, two struggling young actors risk everything to participate in a dance contest as their last-ditch effort at survival in Hollywood.

 When a dance marathon craze sweeps the country, Hollywood film extras Robert and Gloria join dozens of other desperate young men and women to compete in a multi-day, dance-till-you-drop spectacle. Most dancers are hoping to get noticed by major movie studios. But as live audiences cheer and jeer, bodies drop, fists are thrown, and the trendy contest quickly becomes a cutthroat nightmare for its participants.

They Shoot Horses, Don't They? stands next to The Grapes of Wrath as one of the most convincing-and heartbreaking-fictional portraits of America during the Great Depression. It was also made into a classic film starring Jane Fonda and directed by Sydney Pollack.

 This ebook features an extended biography of Horace McCoy.

My Thoughts:
Many people are probably familiar with the Academy Award-nominated movie based on Horace McCoy's novel, They Shoot Horses, Don't They?  Those who are not familiar with either should do themselves a favor and read the book. Toward that end, Open Road Media has reissued an e-edition of McCoy's novel.
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? follows Robert Syverten and Gloria Beatty as they compete in a marathon dance competition held at a ballroom over looking the Pacific on the Santa Monica Pier. While they entered as a couple, they are not a couple in the sense of committed partners. They are just a couple of down-and-out young people who want to make it in the movie industry but so far have only achieved rejections. After meeting they decide to enter the marathon dance competition as partners.
Helping create a real sense of foreboding is the fact that we know, right from the opening, that Robert kills Gloria. He confesses that he killed her. At the beginning of each chapter is a short excerpt from the judge sentencing Robert for the murder of Gloria. But as the reader follows their relationship, we know that Gloria has a fatal outlook on life and often repeats that she wishes she were dead.
Since the novel was published in 1935, it really showcases a slice of American life from that time period. It captures the economic poverty experienced by citizens during the Great Depression. They entered the contest simply to enjoy the free food as much as they want to win the $1000 prize. Most people will understand the implications of the title of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? The desperation the contestants must feel to expose themselves to the brutal contests and excruciating physical pace required by the marathon are well portrayed.
This is not a long novel, but it is well worth your time, especially if you appreciate novels that capture a time period in history. Some books will always be considered classics for a good reason.  
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is very highly recommended.
Open Road is releasing this classic as well as McCoy's classic noir, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye.

Disclosure: My Kindle edition was courtesy of Open Road and Netgalley for review purposes.
I STOOD UP. FOR a moment I saw Gloria again, sitting on that bench on the pier. The bullet had just struck her in the side of the head; the blood had not even started to flow. The flash from the pistol still lighted her face. Everything was as plain as day. She was completely relaxed, was completely comfortable. The impact of the bullet had turned her head a little away from me; I did not have a perfect profile view but I could see enough of her face and her lips to know she was smiling.  Location 5-8

‘Your Honour,’ Epstein said, ‘—we throw ourselves on the mercy of the court. This boy admits killing the girl, but he was only doing her a personal favour—’ Location 15-16
I don’t understand it at all. I’ve thought and thought and still I don’t understand it. This wasn’t murder. I try to do somebody a favour and I wind up getting myself killed. They are going to kill me. Location 24-25 
‘I know how you feel,’ I said; ‘I know exactly how you feel.’
‘It’s peculiar to me,’ she said, ‘that everybody pays so much attention to living and so little to dying. Why are these high-powered scientists always screwing around trying to prolong life instead of finding pleasant ways to end it? There must be a hell of a lot of people in the world like me who want to die but haven’t got the guts—’
‘I know what you mean,’ I said; ‘I know exactly what you mean.’
Neither of us said anything for a couple of seconds. Location 76-80
‘A girl friend of mine has been trying to get me to enter a marathon dance down at the beach,’ she said. ‘Free food and free bed as long as you last and a thousand dollars if you win.’ ‘The free food part of it sounds good,’ I said. ‘That’s not the big thing,’ she said. ‘A lot of producers and directors go to those marathon dances. There’s always the chance they might pick you out and give you a part in a picture …What do you say?’ Location 80-83
I found out that about half of the people in this contest were professionals. They made a business of going in marathon dances all over the country, some of them even hitchhiking from town to town. The others were just girls and boys who came in like Gloria and me. Location 107-109
‘My shoes are wearing out,’ Gloria said. ‘If we don’t hurry up and get a sponsor I’ll be barefooted.’ A sponsor was a company or a firm that gave you sweaters and advertised their names or products on the backs. Then they took care of your necessities. Location 127-128

We were all milling around in the middle of the floor, all of us watching the minute hand of the clock, when suddenly Kid Kamm of Couple No. 18 began slapping his partner on the cheek. He was holding her up with his left hand, slapping her backwards and forwards with his right hand. But she did not respond. She was dead to the world. She gurgled a couple of times and then slid to the floor, unconscious. The floor judge blew his whistle and all the customers jumped to their feet, excited. Customers at a marathon dance do not have to be prepared for their excitement. Location 211-215 
‘She’s not depressed,’ Mrs. Layden said. ‘She’s bitter. She hates everything and everybody. She’s cruel and she’s dangerous.’ Location 774-775

1 comment:

Jeanne said...

I've never read this, although the title is so familiar I think it must have been on my parents' bookshelves. Sounds like it's about time.