Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley is a wonderful novel, putting us among trainers and track brats, horse-obsessed girls, nervy jockeys, billionaire breeds and restless track wives.
Jane Smiley is the author of eleven novels as well as three works of non-fiction. She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize for her novel A Thousand Acres. She lives in Northern California.
The Chinese calendar aside, 2000 may be the Year of the Horse. Almost neck and neck with Alyson Hagy's Keeneland, this novel about horses and their breeders, owners, trainers, grooms, jockeys, traders, bettors and other turf-obsessed humans is another winner. Smiley, it turns out, knows a prodigious amount about Thoroughbreds, and she is as good at describing the stages of their lives, their temperaments and personalities as she is in chronicling the ambitions, financial windfalls and ruins, love affairs, partings and reconciliations of her large cast of human characters. With settings that range from California and Kentucky to Paris, the novel covers two years in which the players vie with each other to produce a mount that can win high-stakes races. Readers will discover that hundreds of things can go wrong with a horse, from breeding through birth, training and racing, and that every race has variables and hazards that can produce danger and death, as well as the loss of millions of dollars. (A scene in which one horse stumbles and sets off a chain reaction of carnage is heartbreaking.) Characters who plan, scheme, connive and yearn for a winner include several greedy, impetuous millionaires and their wives; one trainer who is a model of rectitude, and another who has found Jesus but is crooked to the core; two preadolescent, horse-obsessed kids; a knockout black woman whose beauty is the entrance key to the racing world; the horses themselves (cleverly, Smiley depicts a horse communicator who can see into the equine mind); and one very sassy Jack Russell dog. Written with high spirits and enthusiasm, distinguished by Smiley's wry humor (as in Moo), the novel gallops into the home stretch without losing momentum. Fans of A Thousand Acres may feel that Smiley has deserted the realm of serious literature for suspense and romance, but this highly readable novel shows that she can perform in both genres with ‚lan. 150,000 first printing; 15-city author tour; Random House audio. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.
"'The best living American novelist.' Observer 'The strange, compelling and mysterious universe of horse racing has never before been depicted with such verve and originality, such tenderness and exuberance. Massive, thrillingly articulated, unfailingly intelligent and warmly humorous. She is the most perfect vindication of the realist novel, of the speaking voice. In her sensuous responsiveness to the facts of the world, her cool, amused, analytical gaze, she has started to look like the best living American novelist.' Observer"
Smiley, author of nine earlier works of fiction including The Age of Grief and A Thousand Acres (a Pulitzer Prize winner), has written the Gone with the Wind of horse books. Those involved in the equestrian world will experience a thrill of recognition when hearing about the various types of trainers, owners, and, of course, the horses themselves. The trainers include a Zen practitioner who considers each horse a koan to be solved; a crooked trainer who gets religion and repents, however briefly; and a married trainer who falls in love with the wife of an owner. The horses are a rogue stallion, a timid mare, and an amazingly focused gelding named Limitless. The horses and people are both talented and flawed yet all find redemption. Mary Beth Hurt is an exceptional reader. Highly recommended for all public libraries.ÄPatsy Gray, Huntsville P.L., AL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.