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
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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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