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Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon *** (of 4)

misruleFour horse races are run at a bottom-of-the-barrel track inWest Virginia.  The horses are knock-kneed, belligerent, over-the-hill, lazy, or used-up.  So are the people that populate the track as their grooms, trainers, riders, and no-good-for-nothing hoodlums trying to make a fast buck.  Gordon provides a view of people and horses I would never in my life meet and does so with such intimacy and accuracy that I felt I was in a neighboring horse stall peaking through a crack in the wallboards.  Her races come alive, but somehow they don’t seem to be the main point.  What Gordon wants us to see is that everything has a price.  A horse can be bought, a race fixed, a trainer’s allegiance redirected, and even love can all be purchased.  She captures each character’s manner of speech and thoughts with deadeye accuracy, but curiously, prints her dialogue with neither quotations nor attribution, leaving the reader to discern when words are spoken aloud and by whom.  For that she won the National Book Award and though I couldn’t really put the book down it gave me a headache.