This book was part of my book challenge to read the winners of the National Book Foundation. This was the winner of the best book in fiction.
I had a hard time understanding the book. I decided I would give it a good 100 pages before I would continue or not. A few years ago, another decision I made was to NOT continue reading books of no interest to me. There are too many books to be read and many that will sweep me off my feet. If I struggled to finish a book of no interest, then the less time I have in my life to enjoy the ones that are good to me.
I could only reach page 73 before I gave up. MiMi had brought me a book to read and I thought I'd read that one fairly quickly (120 pages). After reading that, then going back to this one, I got pissed that this one had to be so difficult to read and follow. I read the reviews on the back of the book and then that just pissed me off. 'WTF are these people reading that I _can't_?' I thought to myself?
It's almost like watching a foreign movie without subtitles and getting just the gist of the story...I could read the words and my brain would figure out what the fuck was going on.
Here is the first chapter, from the first section of the book, Mr. Boll Weevil:
Inside the back gate of Indian Mound Downs, a hot-walking machine creaked round and round. In the judgment of Medicine Ed, walking a horse himself on the shedrow of Barn Z, the going-nowhere contraption must be the lost soul of this cheap racetrack where he been ended up at. It was stuck there in the gate, so you couldn't get out. It filled up the whole road between a hill of horse manure against the backside fence, stubbled with pale dirty straw like a penitentiary haircut, and a long red puddle in the red dirt, a puddle that was almost a pond. Right down to the sore horses at each point of the silver star, it resembled some woebegone carnival ride, some skeleton of a two-bit ride dreamed up by a dreamer too tired to dream. There'd been no rain all August and by now the fresh worked horses were half lost in the pink cloud of their own shuffling. Red dust from those West Virginia hills rode in their wide open nostrils and stuck to their squeezebox lungs. Red dust, working its devilment, he observed to himself. But he shut his mouth. They were not his horses.
So the story is this: a cheap racetrack with regulars, including Medicine Man, who find themselves dealing with folks who scheme to make money off down-and-out horses at these tracks.
I was lost instantly with the intro at the beginning, which is a section covering "claiming races" from Ainslies' Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing.
But I made it through the Mr. Boll Weevil section and figured out that Medicine Man seemed to feel a series of coincidences became his lucky calling, only to find himself without an owner (at Indian Mound Downs), after the owner was struck dead of a possible heart attack. And that Tommy Hansel abuses his girlfriend, who together make it to this racetrack on a scheme to win money with their horses...and perhaps (an assumption, since I stopped reading it) taking Medicine Man with them...who did not want to work for the odd Hansel.
I started the next section Little Spinoza and read this:
His Elizabeth, however, was a herd dog, hustled by some ancient sense of responsibility not to let her sheep -- whoever she decided her sheep were -- out of her sight. As for Two-Tie she wouldn't even let him take a dump in privacy but curled up with a groan on the little wrinkled rug between the tub and the sink for the duration. He had to curtail some of his out-of-town operations in recent years. Elizabeth no longer cared to travel. She didn't appreciate having her routine interrupted. It had cost him some bucks. But it was the least he owed her for thirteen years of devoted companionship. Around the racetrack (especially if you weren't welcome on the actual grounds no more) you had better know the value of a foul weather friend.
This was several pages into this section and then I had to go back and re-read the previous sections. Is Elizabeth a dog? A horse? A companion to Two-Tie, who I figured out after re-reading it that he is the narrator.
I read some reviews and those who disliked it, disliked it for it's hard to read vernacular. There is also the notion that one must have an understanding of horse racing to understand the lingo, so there's another reason why "I didn't get it". It just seems odd to me that I would have to have some background knowledge of a subject matter within a novel -- a novel, mind you, that won a National Book Award -- to "get it".
Minus 100 points to the credulity of the National Book Foundation's best novel awards. You mean as much to me as the Golden Globes...