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A Year at the Races: Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck Hardcover – April 13, 2004
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From Publishers Weekly
In a wide-ranging and detailed, yet somewhat flat memoir, Smiley (A Thousand Acres; Moo; etc.) examines the nuances of horses' lives and of the people who build their lives around them. She does not aim "to evoke horseness, but to evoke horse individuality; to do what a novelist naturally does, which is to limn idiosyncrasy and character, and thereby to shade in some things about identity." This she accomplishes through illustrative episodes with some of the horses she has owned, focusing on two and their fortunes at the track. While the book offers anecdotes and an array of Smiley's theories about horse personality and cognizance, it lacks the narrative or dramatic flair that one expects would come naturally from such an accomplished novelist. The writing can often be formulaic: "In June, Eddie died, and Alexis became my trainer. Hornblower was two. I was fifty. Alexis was forty-eight. Mr. T. had died the year before, at twenty. Jackie was three. Persey was four. Alexis and I began to become friends." Smiley talks of moving her horse from one track to another as "being asked to leave Harvard and take a course at Boston University," and she delights in cutting a grand figure when arriving at the more posh tracks in a publisher-provided Mercedes limousine. In the end, the book provides a meticulous look at the world of thoroughbred horses, but it has too many flaws to be a perfectly enjoyable read.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
*Starred Review* Smiley's great love for horses inspired her spectacular novel Horse Heaven (2000). Now she chronicles her real-life equestrian experiences as a novice but adventurous horse owner bringing her untried young horses to the track in California with the help of a gifted trainer, Alexis, and the astonishing disclosures of Hali, an animal communicator with whom Smiley's horses share their thoughts and concerns. The very qualities of mind that make Smiley such a compelling novelist--her keen attentiveness to the sensuous world, her deep sensitivity to psychological states, and her fascination with life's entwinement of chance and inevitability--enable her to write about horses, both their interior and exterior selves, with extraordinary avidity, empathy, wonder, and gratitude. As she tells the intriguing stories of the horses she knows best, neurotic Persey, scintillating Waterwheel, and the book's irresistible star, ardent Hornblower (who tells Hali that he wants to be called by his nickname, Wowie, because Hornblower has negative "vibrational qualities"), Smiley, as erudite and probing as she is passionate and witty, meticulously and bewitchingly illuminates equine sense and sensibility. Ultimately, Smiley succeeds brilliantly in portraying horses not only as fully sentient beings but also as beautiful and intriguing creatures of unique intelligence and heart, who have, over the course of centuries, greatly enhanced and graced human life. Donna Seaman
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved
Top customer reviews
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The problem is that this book is about a lot more than racing. We hear about Smiley's other horses who aren't race horses. The problem is that she jumps from one subject to another and it's very hard to follow. Worse yet, we spend a lot of time talking about an "expert" who talks to horses and can supposedly communicate with them. Great idea and I'm glad it makes Ms. Smiley happy, but it takes away from the potential value of this book.
The other annoying part of the book is her vagueness on some topics. She always refers to her trainer on a first name basis. Alexis happens to be Alexis Barba. Why not reveal her last name? Smiley mentions that Alexis Barba took over for Eddie after he died. Eddie is, or was, Eddie Gregson who committed suicide. Whether or not Smiley should have mentioned that fact is open to debate. Since it received extensive coverage in racing circles, I don't have a problem in mentioning it in this review.
Then there are the other details such as costs. She mentions that taking care of a horse is like paying for the cost of sending your child to an expensive university. Why not tell us how much it is? What does it cost to employ a trainer, to pay for dental work and shoeing? What is the cost for a Lasix shot that must be supervised by a vet? How much is vet care when a horse gets injured? Instead of mentioning them in passing, why not delve into the subject?
In summary, I'm not sure if I would be as tough on this book if I wouldn't have had such high expectations, but given Smiley's talent, lofty expectations shouldn't be surprising. What is surprising is that Smiley failed to live up to them.
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I read the book a few years ago.Read more