Mar 4, 2011
Lord of Misrule
by Jaimy Gordon
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 this week I buckled down and picked it back up again. So here we are.
There are things that I love about this book. With italics and everything. 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 brush 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. Sure, sprinkling a little bit of it in the stall of a horse you want to win might pay off in the short term, but that horse probably won't live to see the next morning.
Another aspect that I fell in love with was Tommy's sanity. It comes and goes, but he is always written in the second person (heavy-handed, maybe) and that just drives it home. However, for as crazy as he winds up being, he's just fully awesome. In a scary psycho way that the author doesn't shy away from.
But the book did wind up losing me, and it wound up doing that for two reasons: rambling and lack of story. There isn't a lot of story in this book. In fact, what plot there is would probably be more suited to a novella or short story than a full-length novel. It's padded with pages and pages and pages of description and tangents that might have been called character development if I felt they had been headed in that direction. Instead they only seemed to drown out the vibrancy of the characters and left me wanting. There is such a thing as too much, and I think this book hit it over and over again. The plot...while definitely recognizable at the end, was shaky in the beginning. If you're not careful, you can miss it entirely and find yourself wondering just what is going on by the middle of the book.
Also, there are no quotation marks. If that irks you, you'll loathe it. It's my personal opinion that lack of quotation marks works only if you're using your words sparingly. This novel is full to overflowing with words, so it's easy to get lost and forced to start sentences over.
So...all together I'd say that there are moments in this book that I loved. Moments I wish had stretched out and kept hooking me to the end, but unfortunately there were too many long moments of navel-gazing that knocked over my interest. Did I get it back again? Yes. It was just hard getting there.