Lord of Misrule

Lord of Misrule
Jaimy Gordon
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Quercus
Thu, 01/09/2011
9780857386694
£12.99

A young upstart fetches up at a rundown race track in West Virginia, 1970, aiming to surprise those already living there with his four steeds, and make a packet and flee. His naïve, eager girlfriend is there too to help out, but old timers like Medicine Ed (a trainer with a fine line in herbalism) have seen it all before. And in the background are some small-time gangsters a bit annoyed at people surprising them by winning on their own turf.

You might begin Lord of Misrule feeling like the outsider. Without speechmarks, we enter Medicine Ed’s mind, with his unconventional dialect and spelling, but persevere and one is soon off and running. Gordon soon swaps style and focus for every character, piecing together a strong storyline that comes clearly to the reader, even one not interested in horse-racing. The focus throughout is human not horse, and this look at the American Dream clearly shows the fallibility of those who gamble on too much, while failing to see their own inexorable slide downhill.  

The 1970s setting offers a classical, near-timeless feel to this award-winner.  If Gordon had opened up her world to feature more characters perhaps we would see more clearly a metaphor for the whole USA, but with this one intimate look at an unusual sport and circumstance we have a very enjoyable novel, that’s more like a thoroughbred than any character within.
 

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