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They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Midnight Classics) Paperback – June 1, 1995

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Editorial Reviews


Sordid, pathetic, senselessly exciting ... has the immediacy and the significance of a nerve-shattering explosion New Republic Were it not in its physical details so carefully documented, it would be lurid beyond itself Nation Language is not minced in this short novel which presents life in its most brutal aspect Saturday Review of Literature The first existentialist novel to have appeared in America -- Simone de Beauvoir A brilliant, bitter, wonderful portrait of mother and daughter, artist and lover Kirkus Horace McCoy shoots words like bullets Time A spare, bleak parable about American life, which McCoy pictured as a Los Angeles dance marathon in the early thirties ... full of the kind of apocalyptic detail that both he and Nathanael West saw in life as lived on the Hollywood fringe New York Times Captures the survivalist barbarity in this bizarre convention, and becomes a metaphor for life itself: the last couple on their feet gets the prize Independent I was moved, then shaken by the beauty and genius of Horace McCoy's metaphor Village Voice It's the unanswerable nature of the whydunnit that ensures the book's durability Takes the reader into one of America's darkest corners ... The story has resonance for contemporary America and the current craze for reality television. How far are we from staging a dance marathon for television? This almost sadistically frank pulp fiction from 1935 will cure anyone of the delusion that earlier generations didn't know the score. With murder, incest, abortion, and the like generously added to a plot about people entertaining themselves by watching the misery of others, it's like one of these eliminationist "reality" television shows (Survivor, Big Brother, etc.) as conceived by the creative team of Thomas Hobbes and Charles Darwin. These lives are indeed nasty, brutish, and short. It doesn't make for a pretty story, but you have to admire the zeal and energy with which Horace McCoy drives his point home A sharply-honed novella... Brilliant -- Val Hennessy Daily Mail A classic novel about hardscrabble survival in 1930s Depression-era America The Times America's first existential novel Evening Standard And finally, showing the modern writers how it's done... the 1930s existentialist noir classic... it's a breathtaking piece of storytelling that is still thrillingly relevant today. -- Doug Johnstone Big Issue Forget Raymond Chandler and his overrated ilk - Horace McCoy's 1935 novel is the best example of American noir ever written... it is an extraordinary achievement and every bit as shocking and moving today as it must have been for its original readers. Gripping from the beginning - when we are given to understand that the narrator is being condemned to death for an unknown crime - it's the story of two losers stumbling endlessly round a grotty Hollywood ballroom in a grotesque and ultimately futile struggle for survival. The characters are both more, and less, than human, the writing is tersely perfect, and the ending almost unbearably moving. -- Laura Wilson Guardian The brutality of the story is offset by the poetic beauty and precision of the narrative... In our world of fleeting reality TV stardom, this stark, urgent novel feels more timely than ever. -- Anita Sethi Observer A typographically innovative drama... A heartbreaking existentialist fable about a gruelling marathon dance contest... the tale assumes the weight of Greek tragedy... a masterpiece. -- Christopher Fowler Independent on Sunday --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Horace McCoy was born near Nashville, Tennessee in 1897. During his lifetime he travelled all over the US as a salesman and taxi-driver, and his varied career included reporting and sports editing, acting as bodyguard to a politician, doubling for a wrestler, and writing for films and magazines. A founder of the celebrated Dallas Little Theatre, his novels include I Should Have Stayed Home (1938), Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1948), and They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1935), which was made into a film. He died in 1955.


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Product Details

  • Series: Midnight Classics
  • Paperback: 132 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail (June 1, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 185242401X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1852424015
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.3 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 3.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (57 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #903,940 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Horace Stanley McCoy (1897-1955) was an American novelist whose gritty, hardboiled novels documented the hardships Americans faced during the Depression and postwar periods. McCoy grew up in Tennessee and Texas; after serving in the air force during World War I, he worked as a journalist, film actor, and screenplay writer. He also wrote five novels, including They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1935) and the noir classic Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye (1948). Though underappreciated in his own time, McCoy is now recognized as a peer of Dashiell Hammett and James Cain. He died in Beverly Hills, California, in 1955.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

33 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on September 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
Although this book was written in the 1930s, it speaks to today's ennui and loss of meaning. It is still fresh and will stand the test of time, much like Nathaniel West's work. The story describes two drifting people who meet on the streets of Hollywood and find themselves in a crazy dance marathon contest. They initially wanted to meet Hollywood producers and stars through the marathon, but then just go on and on, hour after hour, day after day, dancing in perpetual motion, not knowing why they continue. Perhaps it's for the $1000 prize money, or perhaps it's just because they're in a rut, trying to escape their desparate, empty lives. The contest is just a crass racket the promoters have dreamed up to pull in cash, and the contestants are almost like animals in a great big cage who can't escape, while the audience comes night after night to gawk and laugh at them. The basic cruelty of the contest is driven home in scenes depicting nightly "derby races," where the exhausted contestants must race around a track for 15 minutes, with the last place couple being eliminated. Bodies fall, tempers flare, and fists fly while the audience gasps and thrills to the show. In the end, we discover an enormous existential void in our two contestants, which leads to the only logical conclusion. This book is packed with sexual tension as well and should give today's slick writers pause. There's nothing new under the sun, kids. Previous generations weren't as stupid as you might think. In fact, this very fine work outstrips 99% of today's novels in its subtlety and originality.
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18 of 18 people found the following review helpful By James Bunnelle on March 23, 2004
Format: Paperback
When all is said and done, it's McCoy's HORSES that, for me, so beautifully reflects the darkest side of the Depression days in the U.S., even more so than Steinbeck's wonderful GRAPES OF WRATH. McCoy gets to the very core of human desperation and misery, a cutthroat atmosphere where people will resort to ANYTHING just to survive. The dance marathon itself becomes an odd microcosm of society, totally self-contained, as if the world outside of its doors does not exist. I have not seen the film because I am afraid it will undermine the strong visions the book created in my mind, particularly the "derby" sections, where one person is playing the horse and the other the jockey, racing around the center ring in the dance floor. That is one of the most surreal visions any novel has ever planted in my brain and McCoy conveys the action and drama of these "races" so phenomenally well. In light of such strange imagery, to call this a "crime novel" is to rob it of its broader vision, its existential outlook on the modern social order and its warped priorities. More to the point, there's little to no crime here. Someone gets shot. That's the extent of it. There's no investigation, no suspense. So I suspect crime aficionados might be bored out of their skull with this one. I have the hardback first-edition, published by Simon & Schuster back when it was a fledgling company, and its too bad no one will give this its clothbound due and elevate it above the status of the "penny pocketbook". They did include it with Library of America's Crime Noir set but again, that forces it within a certain genre to which it does not belong. Although McCoy's success in the US was marginal at best, the French existentialists loved this novel and McCoy was hailed as a genius there and in other parts of Europe as well. At least he got some degree of recognition during his own lifetime.
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25 of 27 people found the following review helpful By Gary F. Taylor HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on June 6, 2002
Format: Paperback
Considered experimental when first published in 1935, Hoarce McCoy's THEY SHOOT HORSES, DON'T THEY is a series of extended flashbacks recalled by a prisoner as he stands before a judge pronouncing sentence upon him. But although the novel's structure drew considerable comment at the time, HORSES is best recalled for its vivid portrait of the depression-era fad for Marathon Dances and the gritty tone in which it sketches its desperate characters.
Written in the style of 1930s pulp fiction, the novel essentially presents both characters and Marathon Dance as a metaphor for a world in which those without money and social status struggle for survival with the only certainty in life being death itself--and whose struggle becomes a vicarious entertainment for the more secure. Although the novel is extremely short, it presents the reader with a powerful and very memorable series of images, most of which were well used by the famous 1960s Jane Fonda film version.
Powerful though it is, the novel does have some flaws, chief among them McCoy's failure to fully expand upon his metaphor of the Marathon Dance and his tendency to introduce additional ideas upon which he never really expands; the characters also read as rather flat. Even so, THEY SHOOT HORSES DON'T THEY's central concept and hard-edged prose is so impressive that the book possesses a compulsive readability; it is very much a book that you can't put down. Recommended.
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20 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Orrin C. Judd VINE VOICE on August 20, 2001
Format: Paperback
Though better known in it's somewhat milder film version, this is a brisk, brutal crime novel in which a Depression dance marathon becomes a metaphor for the harsh and unrelenting grind of real life. Couple #22, Robert Syverton and Gloria Beatty, have come to Hollywood to break into the movie business, but having had no luck, end up in a spectacle that's like something out of the Roman Coliseum.
By novel's end the couples have been dancing for almost 900 hours, with only a ten minute break every two hours. The 144 couples who started have dwindled down to twenty. Many dropped out early, but many more have been eliminated in the frantic derby races that were instituted to draw in crowds. When dancers merely pass out, which they frequently do, they are awakened with smelling salts or ice baths and pushed right back onto the floor. But times are so bad that Robert has actually put on five pounds during the ordeal--meals are supplied for free--and most of the other contestants have gained weight too.
He's content to keep going, hoping that he'll be "discovered" by one of the film world glitterati attending the marathon or that he can use the prize money to direct a picture of his own. But Gloria is completely fatalistic :
This whole business is a merry-go-round. When we get out of here we're right back where we started.
She tries convincing one of the other dancers, who is pregnant, to get an abortion, for the good of the baby, and she continually tells Robert that she wishes she were dead. Suffice it to say she gets her wish.
We tend to want to view our grandparents as having led sheltered lives, unaware of all the oh-so-tough realities that we face so honestly today.
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