Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Kirkus Book Review
A fast-paced, fetchingly detailed, wide-angled view of the world of horse breeding-and-racing'and another lively illustration of Smiley's industrious literary work-ethic and gift for transmuting the products of her obviously extensive research into compelling fiction. The encyclopedic story'similar in structure and rhythm to such earlier Smiley successes as A Thousand Acres and the comic romp Moo'spans two years (1997'99) and various Kentucky, California, and foreign locales occupied and frequented by the performers, trainers, moneymen, and aficionados thrust together by their common passion for the sport of kings. West Coast multimillionaire Kyle Tompkins, for example, bankrolls the development of can't-miss racehorse Limitless, honed to competitive perfection by skilled trainer Farley Brown and Farley's ardent protge and assistant trainer Joy Gorham. Several other groupings of characters (human and animal) shed varying light'rather as in a Robert Altman film'on such rituals of the sport as auctioning horses, doctoring and 'birthing' and betting on them, and, in several cases, seeking some form of ultimate communion or identification with them. Some of the more intriguing of Smiley's many characters include adulterous Westchester County matron Rosalind Maybrick (and her petulant Jack Russell terrier Eileen), 60-ish free spirit Elizabeth Zada (who claims she can read horses' minds), preadolescent Audrey Schmidt (whose love for equine creatures may or may not stimulate similar feelings for teenaged jockey Roberto Acevedo, and'in the neatest surprise'veteran gelding Justa Bob (to whose impulses and even thoughts we are made privy), whose excellent track record and stud-worthiness fortuitously affect his life span. The anthropomorphism occasionally verges on feyness (``In reviewing his life after . . . [Justa Bob] developed a painful crack in his right hoof front wall . . . ). But there are few such missteps, and in general the story prances along right smartly. Several horses here are given such names as Nureyev, Lorenzo de Medici, and Ivan Boesky. If one named Jane Smiley ever shows up in the racing form, you might just want to bet the farm on her. (First printing of 150,000; Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection/Quality Paperback Book Club selection)
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