National Book Award, Fiction, 2010
At the rock-bottom end of the sport of kings sits the ruthless and often violent world of cheap horse racing, where trainers and jockeys, grooms and hotwalkers, loan sharks and touts are all struggling to take an edge, or prove their luck, or just survive.
Equal parts Nathanael West, Damon Runyon and Eudora Welty, Lord of Misrule follows five characters -- scarred and lonely dreamers in the American grain -- through a year and four races at Indian Mound Downs, downriver from Wheeling, West Virginia. Horseman Tommy Hansel has a scheme to rescue his failing stable: He'll ship four unknown but ready horses to Indian Mound Downs, run them in cheap claiming races at long odds, and then gut out fast before anyone notices. The problem is, at this rundown riverfront half-maile racetrack in the Northern Panhandle, everybody notices -- veteran groom Medicine Ed, Kidstuff the blacksmith, old lady "gyp" Deucey Gifford, stall superintendent Suitcase Smithers, eventually even the ruled-off "racetrack financier" Two-Tie and the ominous leading trainer, Joe Dale Bigg. But no one bothers to factor in Tommy Hansel's go-fer girlfriend, Maggie Koderer. Like the beautiful, used-up, tragic horses she comes to love, Maggie has just enough heart to wire everyone's flagging hopes back to the source of all luck.
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Worthy of the National Book Award
I Felt Like I Was Working at the Track
The dialogue and the voices of the characters was great; and the characters themselves were also fascinating and real in a "Runyonesque" sort of way.
I really liked the general flow of the story.
There were many scenes that worked well, but one does not particularly stand out over the others.
No, but I seldom do.
The narrator (or reader) did an excellent job with this book. She made the characters and the story feel very real.