Reading my way through Popsugar’s 2016 Book Challenge.
Category: A National Book Award Winner
Lord of Misrule –Jaimy Gordon (294)
Favorite Line: “A horseman of the old school, a gentleman who never forgot to dip down and stake you when he win. He was more ashamed to be stingy than to be broke, so as long as he had two dollars you had one . . .”
I’m sad to say I was extremely disappointed with this book. I didn’t have huge expectations because I knew nothing of the premise, but since it was the winner of the National Book Award, I was expecting a well-written and captivating story, in the least. What I found, however, was neither of these things.
I found the book confusing and scattered. It jumped between characters so frequently that I found it hard to keep track of which events corresponded with which character, especially when names or indication of character was left out. I would read paragraphs at a time without knowing whom the story was following at that moment. The heavy use of multiple nicknames did not help either.
The story (mainly) follows Maggie, a mostly clueless girl, as she tags along with her boyfriend Tommy into the harsh world of horse racing at Indian Mound Downs in Wheeling, West Virginia. Maggie comes in headstrong, making her presence known, and soon seals a spot for Tommy, her, and their horses at the racetrack. There the two live side-by-side with crooks and thieves who are all just trying to make a couple extra bucks on half-beaten down horses.
The events that follow are the flustered and frustrating on goings of a shady horse track. Gambling, harassment, cheating, backstabbing, molestation, witchcraft (or, at least, some form of it)—really anything unpleasant you could think of. There are races, of course, and horse trading and buying, but even with those exciting plot points, I could not get back the creepy aspect of the book.
As I mentioned before, I had a hard time following the flow of the book, but one of my main criticisms was the voice of the narrator. I understand ignoring grammar rules when writing the voice of a character, because that’s the best way to show accent, upbringing, and lifestyle, however in this book the voice of the shady southern horseman was prominent throughout, not just in the voices of the characters. I know this was very intentional and a form of literary expression, and I am sure many people praise the book for this very trait, but for me, it did not sit well.
I Wish I could say something positive about this book, mainly because it did win the National Book Award which means it impressed many people much wiser than I, but I just did not enjoy this read—I could not wait until it ended and when it did, I had a bad taste in my mouth.
With that being said, I am just one person with just one opinion, this book has been highly praised and I don’t want to turn anyone interested in a literary work away from this novel. Check it out for yourself and see if it fits your fancy.
Jaimy Gordon teaches in Western Michigan University. Her most famous work Bogeywoman was on the LA Times bestseller list in 2000.