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on April 1, 2004
Here's the long and short of it: John Jeremiah Sullivan, straight out of the gate with BLOOD HORSES, his first book, has written a masterpiece. Mixing conventional memoir, unconventional reportage, and a collage of historical source material about the history of the horse and the horse in history and literature, Sullivan braids apparantly disparate strands into a single narrative of power, delicacy, strangeness, and beauty. And as smart as this book is, as much reading and thinking as Sullivan slips into every page, there is never a moment when the enterprise has even a hint of pretention. This is a function of Sullivan's deep storytelling reserves, his elegant prose, his biting sense of humor (particularly about his own shortcomings), and his huge heart that, like Seabiscuit's own, is preturnaturally large. Sullivan's book is ultimately a moving tribute to his father-a failed poet, a respected sportswriter, and a man Sullivan lost too soon. Sullivan searches high and low for traces of him, a search that yields this book, one of the most moving and accomplished in recent memory, a book built to last.
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on October 14, 2004
I first came across the article gleaned from the pages of this book (or in preperation of...) in a 2003 Harper's Magazine, October, I think. Mr.Sullivan's walk through the bizarre intricacies of the horse racing world from all sides, including his most personal, were raw genius. He nonchalantly drew connections between more humble pedigrees (his own, for example - nothing remarkable except that it, too, is now published) and those of these rarified creatures (thoroughbreds) in a way I didn't even notice until half way through. What a respctful tribute to his father. It seemed to me a sort of a come from behind type of writing style that crystalized into a fine read somewhere in the middle, and then just got better. All the way to the very last sentance.
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on April 14, 2004
Somewhat in the discursive style of W.G. Sebald, the author of this wonderful book wanders easily from a discussion of the role of horses during the ice age to the lyrics of My Olde Kentucky Home, to the way that jockeys grasp their whips, taking in along the way a search for a lost pony and a visit to the Kentucky yearling sales. But this book is more than a ramble through horse country. Running like another theme thoughout are the author's memories, sometimes wildly funny, sometimes poignant, of his sportswriter father and the love that kept them apart. It is this apposition of the discursive and the intensely personal that gives the book its magic and makes John Jeremiah Sullivan a new author to applaud.
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on April 16, 2004
This is a breath-taking book. I picked it up at the library, thinking it was about race horses. It's not, really. But I'm buying for my own, anyway.
The horses are in there, with tales of Secretariat and War Emblem, horses carrying soldiers to war, hobby-horses, and the bond between humans and horses. But not in the way you expect.
This is a story about a sportswriter father, written by his son. But it's more than that. It's about being at the Keeneland yearling sale on September 10 and 11th 2001. It's about hearing his father's story of the 1973 Triple Crown races and the man as a boy sitting in the press box after a baseball game watching his father interact with his fellow newspapermen. It's about that moment in your life when you first see the human being, not the parent, and coming to terms with it. And a lot of other stuff that is hard to explain but makes perfect sense as you read it. It roams from Woodstock, to 1830's Germany, to the 1800's journal of a Kentucky itinerate well-digger, to the 2003 Belmont Stakes and ends in a way that is a perfect tribute in so many ways you have to have read it for me to explain it.
The last time I was so taken by a book was John Irving's The World According to Garp. But this is real life, and it tastes of it. Buy it if you are interested in horses - or in humans. Or in both.
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on May 20, 2004
After hearing the author read at a book signing at our local bookstore, I went home and started the book. I could not put it down! A beautifully written, powerful book written with scholarship, conviction and courage. If you have not found this book yet, you must! It is an exceptional read!
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on April 9, 2004
This book is amazing. It is deeply informative on the history and beauty of horseracing, all the while weaving an intricate web of storytelling between seemingly different topics. In the author's personal memories of his youth and time with his father, he has the readers on the brink of sobbing aloud - just as he lets loose with a quick quip that leaves them laughing on the floor. Similarly, readers will find themselves laughing, just as the tears began to fall. Sullivan's got a true talent of weaving words in a comfortable, eloquent manner so prevalent in great southern literature. He has the mastery of storytelling like John Grisham with the self-depracating southern humor of Rick Bragg. I am looking forward to his next works.
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on December 1, 2006
This magnificent book is a subtle tribute to the author's father. Apparently, subtlety is lost on some of the philistines who posted reviews below - so let me help. If you want a book all about horsies - this is not it. If you want a series of reflections written in the "new journalism" style of Tom Wolfe and arranged around a journalist's coverage of the Kentucky Derby, "Blood Horses" will draw you in and astonish you time and time again. Sullivan is a genius, his elegiac and moving work will last, and we will hear more from him.
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on July 1, 2004
...shouldn't blame the author. This is a phenomenal book. Blood Horses is partly an experiment in narrative technique. Like most literary experiments, it has its less-than successful moments. There are places where the author's allusions to and quotations from other texts get overwhelming. But the book also contains some of the most amazing pages of flat-out writing I've come across in a long time--about horses, about pain, and about beauty. Given its ambitious scope the structure holds together surprisingly well, and pieces of it are wickedly funny. If you come to it looking for Seabiscuit II, you might find it frustrating and a little disjointed. I came to it looking for a new writer who was trying something different, and I was blown away. This book is destined to become a classic and Sullivan an author to follow. I say discover him before everyone else does.
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on April 9, 2004
This book is amazing. It is deeply informative on the history and beauty of horseracing, all the while weaving an intricate web of storytelling between seemingly different topics. In the author's personal memories of his youth and time with his father, he has the readers on the brink of sobbing aloud - just as he lets loose with a quick quip that leaves them laughing on the floor. Similarly, readers will find themselves laughing, just as the tears began to fall. Sullivan's got a true talent of weaving words in a comfortable, eloquent manner so prevalent in great southern literature. He has the mastery of storytelling like John Grisham, the historical perspective of Laura Hillenbrand and the self-depracating southern humor of Rick Bragg. I am looking forward to his next works, of which I hope there will be many.
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on April 13, 2004
The major shortcoming of this book is that it ends too soon! The reader is left wishing for more. Blood Horses meanders through fascinating history and beautiful literature of horses, while at the same time it keeps the reader on pins and needles, wanting to hear more of the wonderfully funny (I kept laughing out loud) very touching stories of the author's childhood. It is an engaging and humorous exploration of the world of horse racing and training; and, it is an extraordinarily loving, elegant articulation of profound grieving by the author for his father. What a pleasurable read -- instructive on so many levels, and beautifully written.
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