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They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

3.84 of 5 stars 3.84  ·  rating details  ·  3,715 ratings  ·  262 reviews
The marathon dance craze flourished during the 1930s, but the underside was a competition and violence unknown to most ballrooms--a dark side that Horace McCoy's classic American novel powerfully captures. "Were it not in its physical details so carefully documented, it would be lurid beyond itself."--Nation
Paperback, 122 pages
Published June 1st 1995 by Serpent's Tail (first published 1935)
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Best Hardboiled PI & Noir
22nd out of 522 books — 617 voters
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Titles with a Question Mark?
6th out of 333 books — 57 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Dan Schwent
Robert and Gloria enter a marathon dance contest with $1000 as the top prize. Too bad Gloria thinks about death more than winning...

Horace McCoy is bleak enough to be one of Jim Thompson's drinking buddies. This tale is really slim but also kind of exhausting. McCoy's depiction of a dance contest that lasts over a month is hellish and he paints a depressing picture of life during the Great Depression. See what I did there?

It's a pretty powerful story. You know how it ends in the first few pages
Jan 06, 2014 Brian rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommended to Brian by: Anthony Vacca
If the Great Depression wasn't soul-suckingly terrible enough, there were cruel men willing to take it down another few notches by creating Dance Marathons to give gutter-poor people a shot at winning just enough money to keep them alive for a few more months by dancing for days (weeks?!?) on-end. Selling tickets to watch their misery. Oh, the humanity.

McCoy uses this minor-but-dark chapter from the '30s as his vehicle for telling the even more depressing story of Gloria, a lady sick of the worl
Glenn Russell

Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel ‘They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?’ contains one of the bleakest line in all of literature. It’s where Gloria, who dances in the marathon dance, asks without a trace of irony or black humor, ”Why are these high-powered scientists always screwing around trying to prolong life instead of finding pleasant ways to end it?” Can there ever be a more negative, more downbeat, pessimistic view of life?

Turns out, Gloria was raised in the most dreadful way, by abusive, cruel people i
Emily May
Aug 05, 2015 Emily May rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Emily May by: 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die
Shelves: 2012
This book is essentially about existentialism and nihilism. However, the plot of this small novel features little more than a dance marathon competition and the petty arguments that happen behind the scenes. I suppose this is meant to form a platform on which Gloria can whine about life but it's just insanely boring. I obviously made a mistake choosing to get some of the shorter novels on the 1001 list out of the way, so far they've all been really disappointing.
Nov 18, 2015 Andy rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: moden American classics
In the 1930's Hollywood wannabees were humiliated by making them dance for endless hours in public, reminding me of American Idol's more sadistic moments.

Still fresh today as the day it was written, "They Shoot Horses" is a bizarre existential horror story about people who have shit canned their pride thinking there's a pot of gold at the end of their self-inflicted degradation.

(The only person to attain stardom from the marathons was June Havoc, who was Gypsy Rose Lee's sister, so she would hav
Mark Desrosiers
Wow, talk about your serial misapprehensions. First dismissed by American critics as grim dime-novel trash, then adopted by the French as a founding example of their cross-eyed tedious existentialism, this novel begs to be read -- especially in 2012 -- for what it is: a story about the exploitation by racketeers of a collapsing, desperate society, and how nihilism is the only logical response to it. The marathon dance here is an attempt at money-making voyeurism, complete with corporate sponsors ...more
“…she died in agony, friendless, alone…”

Thus the book begins…It’s the 1930’s right outside Hollywood in Santa Monica California and yet another version of the marathon dance craze is being enacted. Two Hollywood hopefuls, Gloria and Robert, happen upon one another and decide to team up, after all there’s a $1,000 prize to the last couple standing. So begins this tortured story. It’s one of struggle reflective of the depression. The couples are required to stay in motion with a ten minute rest br
I know I must be missing something here, but I just don't get why this has endured as a profound piece of classic American literature. Apparently 1930s French Existentialists went gaga over it and Simone de Beauvoir named it as "the first existentialist novel to have appeared in America". So if you are a literary theorist, and get off on those labels and how they come to mean something to a certain group of people during a certain period of time, then you probably want to read this book and are ...more
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They is a novel that speaks to our times: we are inundated with reality shows, where fame and fortune, tragedy and despair are brought to us on a whim and often in the public eye. The public’s livelihoods and fates are broadcast for the world to see, and this sells.

The basis for this story is concerning the promotion of a dance marathon during the Great Depression. The winner is promised cash and free food. And, unlike the many reality shows we see today, there is a rea
Nancy Oakes
Jan 05, 2013 Nancy Oakes rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Nancy by: 1001 books to read before you die
Shelves: american-fiction
Most definitely a no-miss book, despite the fact that it was written in the 1930s. They Shoot Horses, Don't They is short (only 127 pages) but incredibly powerful, examining not only how much pain or humiliation a person can withstand in his or her own fight for survival or that of others, but it also looks at the utter hopelessness for some in life's unending dance toward the American dream. Stay here for the shorter review, or click here for a longer one.

Robert and Gloria, two young people w
This is the second novella that appears in a Library of America collection called Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s & 40s .

Similar to the first novella in the anthology titled The Postman Always Rings Twice , They Shoot Horses, Don't They? also struck me as odd and unexpected(perhaps because of my unfamiliarity with Noir fiction). Still, like the first, I enjoyed it.

For those of you who are also unfamiliar with Noir fiction, a little blurb from Wikipedia can be found in the spoiler
I don't think I could spoil this book, because it spells it out from the very start; and I've heard it was made into a spectacular movie. This is an existential noir (I know, weird combination?) novella about two people looking for stardom in the great depression. In the hope of being discovered and the need for money they join a dance marathon. While Robert remains hopefully, Gloria sinks into a depression and loses all hope and eventually asked Robert to kill her. Because They Shoot Horses, Do ...more
Atilio Frasson
"Me choca que a tanta gente le preocupe tanto vivir y tan poco morir. ¿Por qué estos eminentes científicos se devanan los sesos intentando prolongar la vida, en lugar de buscar una manera agradable de acabar con ella? Debe de haber multitud de personas en el mundo como yo que desean morir pero carecen del valor necesario para matarse."
Gloria Beatty a Robert Syverten

Una novela corta y cruda.

El argumento es sencillo. Durante la Gran Depresión, Robert Syverten y Gloria Beatty entran a un concurso d
I remember, back when I was a kid, reading Uncle John's Bathroom Readers in their intended spot in the house; my family had collected several volumes, at least, and each one ended up being read through multiple times. I learned about all kinds of trivia, quotes, minor cult figures--to this day, my heroes are eccentric folks like Henry Darger, Emperor Norton, Sarah Winchester, Timothy Dexter, William James Sidis, and the like--and other useless tidbits and forgotten history, including the maratho ...more
I liked this little book quite a lot. I love noir stories that tell you upfront that somebody is dead and then let the killer (who in this case was mostly a victim) reminisce. A dance marathon isn't what pops to mind as the perfect setting for seamy noir, but this interesting venue was wonderfully described.

Read in Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s & 40s collection from the library.
Dillwynia Peter
I found this a brutal book, especially in its delivery. McCoy is a magician in being able to confine virtually the entire action within the claustrophobic atmosphere of a marathon dance competition, and yet so much of the Great American Dream & the ideals associated with it are discussed. It is sheer brilliance.

I think it helps that Gloria is a nihilist. We get snippets of why she is so fatalistic and her life has not been easy. I think a lot of people growing up in the Great War, and just a
Jigar Brahmbhatt

I loved this book. Terse. Morally complex. Hard-boiled is the word. There is no other manner in which this story could be narrated. The title becomes clear, illuminates almost in the last sentence, shining on the face of the reader, and then it makes you think. You want to read more but there is nothing more left to read. Because the style of writing permits that you don't engage in unnecessary explanations or long, winding monologues to explain the character's psyche the writer has to rely on c
This noir novel by Horace McCoy is pro bably one of the grimmest novels of the Depression. Virtually all of They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1935) takes place during a dance marathon on a pier over the ocean. The heroes are Robert and Gloria, who meet each other by chance while trying to catch a bus. Robert is a bit of a dreamer, who would like to become a Hollywood director. Gloria, on the other hand, is a depressed young woman who tells us several times that she would rather be dead.

In fact, th
[7/10] A rare case of the film being much better than the book that inspired it. A devastating story of the cynical manipulation of people who have run out of options for financial gain. More than the prize money promised to the winner of the dance contest (and 1000 dollars seem like a paltry sum even for 1930) , I found it disturbing that couples entered this circus in order to have something to eat every day. I liked another reviewer observation that this book is not so different from the humi ...more
Supports the general rule-of-thumb: if the film is great, the book is probably half-assed (eg, The Godfather). Totally fails to depict the chaos and utter cruelty of the Depression-era dance marathon phenomenon, which so strikingly in the film serves as the fishbowl we can peer into and observe how nasty and mean seamonkeys-- or: people-- can be to each other, and how pointless and unrewarded everyone's efforts and lives really are.

The most irritating element of the book's story is that Gloria h
A dance marathon is the place-setting for a bleak and depressing noir where contestants fight to stay alive literally and figuratively. Gloria and Robert entered with hopes of sharing the $1000 prize on offer for the winner. However, as the couple dance, sway, and nearly pass out, the light in Gloria’s eyes steadily diminishes until Robert is forced to take action.

Gloria’s character is the embodiment of noir - without hope, without optimism; one foot in the grave, the other on the dance floor.
Adrienne Proctor
This book may make you want to shoot YOURSELF after you're done reading it, but it will definitely stick with you.

I read it in 2003 for an English class and I still think about it. Very good, very short, very powerful.... and interesting.

And the "protaganist" is such a sucker you want to smack him.

But you will definitely have an opinion about this book, and the characters. It's not something that you will just read and forget about. You will either love it or hate it. Or both. Probably a little
Jan 28, 2013 R. rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Houellebecq Girls
Shelves: 2013
Pretty sure this book is about nothing more or less than the torments of Hell.

I mean, at the end, the dance contest has churned on for 879 hours: 36+ days. How is that even possible? Buoyed only on icy baths, ham sandwiches, and 10 minute sleep breaks? I dunno. The damned probably do damned strange things to pass eternity.

And, maybe, just maybe, hand-in-hand with the idea that Hell-is-Dancing-Endlessly-without-Sleep, this nasty novel is a pinch prophetic of the chewup-spitout of today's Realit
Angry as Sartre
Perfect from start to finish
Form fits story

A dance marathon
Shoot em ups, a loud voice box

Naturalist movement
Show em as they really are
Death lies, wounded

A director's dream
His octogenarian money-honey
Rock that tracksuit

And in the end
The love you make
Is equal to the love you take

(The rumors of Paul's demise have been greatly exaggerated.)
Hajer Elmahdi
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? is a short story but very existentialist and very exhausting. It takes place in 1930s, during the Great Depression, it starts with Robert Syverten confessing to Gloria Beatty's murder. I loved the way McCoy kept going back and forth between the trial and the dancing marathon. throughout the novel Gloria keeps saying she wants to die, to be honest her pessimistic view of life is beyond redemption, which makes her even more interesting. It's not about the ending here ...more
MSJ (Sarah)
May 07, 2015 MSJ (Sarah) rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Fans of Noir from the Great Depression
Recommended to MSJ (Sarah) by: Pulp Fiction Group
“For a moment I saw Gloria again, sitting on that bench on the pier. The bullet had just struck her in the side of the head; the blood had not even started to flow. The flash from the pistol still lighted her face. Everything was plain as day. She was completely relaxed, was completely comfortable. The impact of the bullet had turned her head a little away from me; I did not have a perfect profile view but I could see enough of her face and her lips to know she was smiling. The Prosecuting Attor ...more
This has to be one of the more twisted books I've read.

First off, it's about a dance marathon in the mid 1930's. I had never heard of these until I read this. So I spent some time on youtube watching movie reels of the actual dance marathons that actually took place.

3 - 5 months (or longer) of dancing - dancing and competing for $1000. That just sounds...insane.

Add to that completely crazy lives most of these contestants have lead that brought them to this dance off and the hopes (beyond all hop
A fascinating virtual prequel to Albert Camus' "The Stranger," which would be published 7 years later.

Camus' debts are obvious, particularly in its constant invocation of the sea as an image of death and point of contrast to the prison-like images of civilization (Meursault's name, from "mourir" or die, was originally "Mersault," from "la mer" or the sea), even bordering on plagiarism in the courtyard scene, where the narrator's attention drifts from the droning judge to the sounds of everyday
Where were the horses? Oh, I finally got what the title was about at the end of the book. I’m joking, but my daughter did keep asking me when it was going to get to the part about the horses because she was curious about the title. It is actually about a couple who enter a marathon dance contest. They barely met but as the dance goes on the boy discovers how dark and negative the girl is. I could imagine the marathon but it was hard for me to grasp that these marathons could go on for weeks and ...more
Христо Блажев
Стреляй в живота – или той ще стреля в теб:

Макар на корицата да има само едно име, че и отзад информацията е единствено за „Уморените коне ги убиват, нали?“, томчето съдържа още два страхотни романа на Хорас Маккой – „Прости се с утрешния ден“ и „Саванът няма джобове“. Събрани на едно място, трите творби допълват екзистенциалната си философия, предават си щафетата в градиращите морални избори и в крайна сметка надграждат хуманистичното си внушение – ей та
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Horace Stanley McCoy (1897–1955) was an American novelist whose gritty, hardboiled novels documented the hardships Americans faced during the Depression and post-war periods. McCoy grew up in Tennessee and Texas; after serving in the air force during World War I, he worked as a journalist, film actor, and screenplay writer, and is author of five novels including They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? (193 ...more
More about Horace McCoy...

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