book reviews

February 3rd, 2011 |

Courtesy of Beaverdale Books


Reviewed by Owana McLester-Greenfield


‘Lord of Misrule’

By Jaimy Gordon

McPherson & Company



294 pp

Jaimy Gordon has landed in the winner’s circle with “Lord of Misrule,” garnering a National Book Award for her powerful novel about the seedy side of horse racing. Through four claiming races and one year, readers are pulled into the bleakness of Indian Mound Downs, a last-chance track for has-been horses. On the backs of Mr. Boll Weevil, Little Spinoza, Pelter and Lord of Misrule ride the few remaining dreams of the main characters.

Greenhorns Maggie Koderer and Tommy Hansel begin the year with optimism and a get-rich-get-out scheme that quickly turns deadly. Medicine Ed, longtime groom and sometimes conjurer, is willing to gamble his potent “goofer dust” to secure a trailer for his retirement. The old gypsy and hotwalker, Deucey Gifford, has luck enough for only one horse. Two-Tie — a blacklisted loan shark — sees his last opportunity for redemption and escape in Koderer. Menacing all of these down-and-out residents of the backside of the track is Joe Dale Bigg, the lead trainer and petty mobster, who despises the very horses he commands. These hapless characters become immediately real through Gordon’s mastery of racetrack language. The lingo of the Downs makes an alien world both familiar and unforgettable.

“Lord of Misrule” deserves its prestigious prize. The novel is superb in its depiction of the soul-killing business of claiming races. Fittingly, the final settings are a rendering plant and a mental institution. CV