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Lord of Misrule (Vintage Contemporaries) Paperback – March 8, 2011

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Editorial Reviews 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 --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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.
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries
  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307946738
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307946737
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (80 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #292,754 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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46 of 49 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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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Steven C. Hull on September 16, 2011
Format: Hardcover
It's difficult to sell a literary novel in today's market and Gordon compounds the problem with post-modern experimentation that causes most readers to abandon the book, namely, no quotation marks, running dialogue and thoughts together and confusing shifts in point-of-view, all heavily laced with obtuse jargon and slang. But Jaimy Gordon has masterfully explored the misery of waiting for death and searching for meaning while chained in a purgatory of poverty at a time when American youth are celebrating their new freedoms.

Gordon sets her story in 1970, following the opening of great freedoms by the civil rights movement and, particularly, the feminist movement. Maggie is a cute Jewish girl enjoying her uninhibited life with her new boyfriend Tommy who takes her into the lowlife world of small time horse racing controlled by two-bit hoods. She confuses her choices of uninhibited freedom to mean that she controls her life. And she becomes upset with Tommy, after helping him care for the horses after he makes one bumbling decision after another: "I just can't take my whole brains and talent and invest them in someone else's work and (clean up his mistakes) and keep my mouth shut. How do you stand it?" She is talking to a seventy-year-old black, disabled trainer who is struggling to survive, having no savings and no way to support himself, except to continue working until he dies. "That's what working folks do. I ain't have too much choice in the matter." Medicine Ed just wants enough money to be able to live out his dying days in a trailer with a roof over his head and a clean bed, when he empathizes with one of Tommy's horses, "The horse is looking at a miserable death.
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