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Lord of Misrule (National Book Award) Hardcover – November 15, 2010

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Amazon Best Books of the Month, December 2010: It is nearly impossible not to be drawn into horseracing cliches when describing Jaimy Gordon's novel Lord of Misrule, especially since it came out of the pack as a dark horse (there you go) to win the 2010 National Book Award for fiction the same week it was published. It's a novel of the track, and Gordon embraces racing's lingo and lore and even some of its romance of longshot redemption, though she knows those bets never really come in, at least the way you think they will. Her story is set at a backwater half-mile track in West Virginia in the early '70s, the sort of place where people wash up or get stuck or, if they're particularly cruel, carve out a provincial fiefdom. The horses there are washed up too but still somehow glorious, and they're as vividly and individually defined as the people who build their lives around them. Between horse and handler there's a sort of cross-species alchemy that, along with Gordon's gorgeous language and wise storytelling, provides the central beauty of her mud-caked but mythic tale, which Maggie, one of her most compelling characters, comes the closest to describing: "On the last little spit of being human, staring through rags of fog into the not human, where you weren't supposed to be able to see let alone cross, she could make a kind of home." --Tom Nissley

From Publishers Weekly

2010 National Book Award-finalist Gordon's new novel begins and ends at a backwoods race track in early-1970s West Virginia, where horse trainer Tommy Hansel dreams up a scam. He'll run four horses in claiming races at long odds and get out before anyone realizes how good his horses are. But at a track as small as Indian Mound Downs, where everyone knows everybody's business, Hansel's hopes are quickly dashed. Soon his luminous, tragic girlfriend, Maggie, appears, drawing the eye of everyone, including sadistic gangster Joe Dale Bigg. Though Maggie finds herself with an unexpected protector in family gangster Two-Tie, even he can't protect her from her own fascination with the track and its misfit members. While Gordon's latest reaches for Great American Novel status, and her use of the colloquial voice perfectly evokes the time and place, constant shifts in perspective make the novel feel over-styled and under-plotted. And Maggie's supposed charisma clashes with her behavior, creating a feeling that something is missing, whereas Hansel is more witnessed than examined, his character developing almost entirely through the eyes of others, creating uncertainty that often borders on indifference.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 296 pages
  • Publisher: McPherson; 1st edition (November 15, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0929701836
  • ISBN-13: 978-0929701837
  • Product Dimensions: 1.2 x 6.2 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (79 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #518,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

209 of 222 people found the following review helpful By Richard L. Pangburn VINE VOICE on November 6, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Of course, LORD OF MISRULE is the name of a horse. It resonates well with anarchy, chaos theory. The splendid dust jacket picture on this novel shows a lone horse and exercise rider coming down the track out of the misty nothingness. How apt for this fine literary horseracing novel, an underdog longshot from a small press but now nominated for the National Book Award.

The book is about one year in the life of typical small-time trainers and backstretch workers. The comparison here with Damon Runyon's fiction is hard to avoid. Jaimy Gordon's characters have names like Tommy Hansel and his girlfriend, Maggie Koderer; the gypsy Deucey Gifford; the veteran black groom, Medicine Ed; Kiddstuff the blacksmith; Suitcase Smithers the stall superintendent; Two-Tie the grifter racetrack tout; and the leading trainer, Joe Dale Bigg. Their horses carry names such as Pelter, Little Spinoza, The Mahdi, Railroad Joe, Mr. Boll Weevil, and of course Lord Of Misrule.

Archetypes or stereotypes, take your pick. Either way, much of this novel rings true with this reader, who began working on the backstretch at age twelve, selling newspapers, and who, as an adult, owned and raced his own horses for many years, sometimes at such minor tracks as in the novel, including Beulah Park and River Downs.

Parts of the book seem like the familiar lyrics an old song heard once again, containing both high comedy and deep insight.
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50 of 53 people found the following review helpful By Joe Drape on November 17, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Wow. This is the best book I've read in a long time, finished it in one sitting. It also is quite rightfully a finalist for the National Book Award. It's true literature. Anyone who knows anything about horse racing will be captivated as Gordon perfectly evokes the beauty and grit as well as the desperation and hope of racetrackers who inhabit a down and out track in West Virginia. There's a gentlemanly loan shark, a broken down groom, a crazy trainer, a crooked one and a head strong girl. Some of them love their broken down horses, others could not care less about them. All of them live for the thrill of the betting coup and a cashed ticket. You breath the red dust and hear the leaky roofs of horse racing's grits-and-hard-toast-circuit as it is beautifully written. Ultimately, Gordon said in an interview, Lord of Misrule is about "trying to figure out what the shape of your luck on Earth is and, one way or another, come to terms with that. It's very much about courting that message from the gods that you were destined for something special, and most of the characters of the book have to settle for what they get." The last line of the book is beautiful and haunting.
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45 of 48 people found the following review helpful By Mara E on March 15, 2011
Format: Paperback
I've been trying to think of a way to discuss this book in an intelligent manner since I received it a few months ago, which, incidentally, is about as long as it took me to finish it. I got stuck about two thirds in, which is usually when I throw up my hands and start screaming, "What did I do to deserve this?! I quit!" and yet I buckled down and picked it back up again. So here we are.

There are things that I love about this book. The ending of the first chapter hooked me. Granted, there are only five chapters in Lord of Misrule, so there were plenty of pages of pondering whether or not I could do this, but I was determined.

The premise is this: Indian Mound Downs is a backwoods racetrack near Wheeling. It is the 1970s, a time period that does well to emphasize just how downtrodden this track is when the likes of Secretariat, Seattle Slew, Affirmed, Alydar, and Ruffian were running around in what is arguably American racing's last great decade. Tommy Hansel and Maggie appear at the track with a group of claimers, hoping to get in quick and cash out faster. Their plans are not exactly going to work out, mainly because Maggie is horse crazy (she's one of those characters, complete with the lack of hairbrush ownership) and the fact that Tommy is simply going crazy. At the track already is a group of various characters, all just barely managing to hack out a living with horses that are old and broke down and keep running because their options are that limited. Gordon does a phenomenal job with the horses in all ways, which was one of the highlights of the book. For me, however, she really sold me on aging groom Medicine Ed and his goofer dust, used only when absolutely necessary since it tends to even the scales in some way.
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26 of 32 people found the following review helpful By Jill I. Shtulman TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 27, 2010
Format: Hardcover
Most of us, when we think of horse racing, conjure up a mint-juleps-and-roses vision of the Kentucky Derby or perhaps, Churchill Downs, attended by jewel-studded rich folk dressed up in their finery with cash to burn.

But at the rock-bottom end of the sport, horse racing is a whole other world - a world inhabited by down-on-their-luck trainers and jockeys, loan sharks and crooks, gyps and hotwalkers. This is the world Jaimy Gordon takes on - Indian Mound Downs, where the horses are mostly aging, drugged, or lame and the trainers are as crooked and cynical as they come.

Into this world steps Maggie, a young, college-educated frizzly-haired, naïve girl who has hitched her wagon to her boyfriend Tommy's star - a "young fool" with a scheme to rescue his failing stable. He intends to ship four down-and-out horses there, race them at long odds, take the money and run before anyone knows what's happened. But Maggie and Tommy don't really have a clue what they're up against - jaded and desperate men for whom horses mean nothing and people mean even less.

Jaimy Gordon knows her way around this world and she certainly knows her horses. Each of the four parts of the book is centered on an individual horse - Mr. Boll Weevil, Little Spinoza, Pelter, and the "devil horse" Lord of Misrule. These are horses filled with personality, treading their way into the flying mud with chopping legs and nostrils cavernous and flaring, neurotic as all hell, almost but not quite ready to live up to their potential. The descriptions of the horses and the races they enter and the conditions they endure are among the finest you're ever likely to read.

Ms. Gordon's idiosyncratic people are slightly less developed, mainly because they are down-and-out and trapped.
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Lord of Misrule (National Book Award)
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