Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

2010 National Book Award Winner

Rating: 3 & 1/2 Stars

I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started Jaimy Gordon’s book. The racing world has never piqued my interest. But reading ‘Lord of Misrule’ is like biting into some rare, exotic fruit – a lush, sensual experience that leaves you craving more.

The story is set in Indian Mound Downs near Wheeling, West Virginia, and covers four races over the span of a year. The races at Indian Mounds are claiming races where any horse can be bought at a predetermined price. As much a part of the cast as the human characters, are the whimsically named horses – the Mahdi, Pelter, Little Spinoza, Lord of Misrule. More than anything, they exemplify the valor and tragedy of ‘the Sport of Kings’. The horses in these races are not thoroughbred stars; they are aging, injured beasts that still, somehow, summon the moxie to give a run for their money.

Pinning their desperate hopes on them are a motley assortment of hustlers and dreamers – Tommy Hansel who believes that his horse is going to be the one to beat all odds; Maggie Koderer, seduced by the glib Tommy has fallen into a life she knows nothing about; Medicine Ed, the elderly trainer, who is looking for the windfall that will purchase him a home; Two-Tie, the race financier whose family values might well be the ruin of him; and Joe Dale Bigg, a race track Mafiosi. With characters named Two-Tie, Biggy and Gyp, you know you ain’t in suburbia anymore.

Ultimately though, this book beguiles with its startlingly original language that in one fell, gorgeous swoop transports us into the seedy, raunchy, sinister glamor of the horse-racing world. The picturesque language catches the rhythms of each character’s personality. We see them from the inside out, each in their own fragile little world of improbable chimeras. Gordon has managed to evoke a world so potent that it lingers in the memory long after the last page has been turned.

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