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Horse Heaven

3.87  ·  Rating Details ·  4,475 Ratings  ·  321 Reviews


of craft and an uncompromising vision that grow more powerful with each
book . . . Racing's eclectic mix of classes and personalities provides
Paperback, 592 pages
Published February 27th 2001 by Ballantine Books (first published 1999)
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Jul 24, 2012 Jim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2fiction, animals, 1paper
I'm not really sure how I feel about the book overall. It was excellent in many ways, but sort of pointless overall. It's a soap opera about horses & the people working with them on the track with a sort of beginning & a kind of end, but there was a lot of history & certainly life goes on after the book ends.

The writing was good, engaging & yet there wasn't a single defined plot, so I got a bit lost at times. Toward the middle of the book, I almost gave it up due to characters m
Jennifer (aka EM)
May 24, 2012 Jennifer (aka EM) rated it really liked it
Recommended to Jennifer (aka EM) by: jo
Just loved how Smiley contrasted thoroughbred racing horses - who are born to know what they love and what they are meant to do - with a whole gaggle of self-doubting, identity-conflicted humans. Funny, "sprawling" but controlled, lotsa anthropomorphism but no saccharine sentimentality. Smiley has an insider's knowledge of her milieu, but also respects and trusts her reader enough not to bog the story down in definition or description. Even though they are frequent, her race scenes are never bor ...more
Feb 23, 2008 April rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Fascinating portrayal of the thoroughbred horseracing world.
How does Jane Smiley do it? Her books are all completely unique. There is no formula; no predictability (you could say she is an anti-Ian McEwan). The story is set in the thoroughbred racing world of Southern California. The story, and the human beings involved are involving. But what set this book apart for me? Two of the main characters are animals. One of the racehorses, and, a dog. A Jack Russell Terrier to be more precise. And let
Aug 12, 2012 Judy rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: anyone

Jane Smiley's novel about horse racing is one of the best books I have read this summer. It was loaned to me by my sister-in-law, a horse woman herself and daughter of a horse woman. Jane Smiley owns a race horse or two and clearly knows plenty about the subject. A big part of the book's success is the way she makes the horses characters in the story as much as she does the humans.

I knew nothing about the world of horse racing, except that people like to go to the races and bet money. I learned
Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley is a novel about horses and their breeders, owners, trainers, grooms, jockeys, traders, bettors and other turf-obsessed humans. It takes place over two-years and chronicles the lives of various horses and their people.

I know a little about horses - that is to say I've ridden horses, been to riding competitions, and been to the race track - but I still found this book particularly hard to get into. You see nothing ever happens, there is no real plot. The entire novel i
Jan 01, 2009 Lisa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I love the Dicken-esque structure of this novel. This is the first novel I have read by Smiley. I read her small bio of Dickens and thought it was a wonderful distillation of the man and his work; she had the fine sense to recognize Our Mutual Friend as perhaps his best work. With Horse Heaven she goes back her forebearers, Dickens, Fielding and Thackery and creates a novel that is worthy homage.

One of the things I loved best about her book is the sly humor. There is one episode of quiet sly hum
Dec 17, 2007 Sarah rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
an epic poem in prose . . . about horse racing.
Aug 23, 2016 Eve rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I fell in love with a race horse named Justa Bob...
Jan 22, 2009 Stefanie rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Review originally and more completely published at

I found Horse Heaven to be entirely too disjointed, jumping from unconnected event to unconnected character every few pages. Smiley did give all her animals very human qualities, making them as integral to the story as the actual human characters. At one point, we even ride around in Eileen the scrappy terrier’s mind, hearing her thoughts.

The novel jumps from character to character. Some of these characte
Nov 24, 2016 KateNZ rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my favourite Jane Smiley so far. It takes place over two years, and follows several American flat racing Thoroughbreds, their trainers, owners, jockeys and associated hangers-on. There are dirty training tactics, personal trials and tribulations, affairs, distressing animal abuse, big money deals and scams, betting ... and of course the thrill and beauty of the actual races and the horses that run them.

It is typical of her other books that I've read in that it has a large cast of charac
Jun 22, 2008 Denise rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: modernfiction
A rambling book with many evocative characters, human and equine, that will stick with me. I haven't cried over a book in a while but one particular scene was so wrenching that it had me sobbing as I read.
Linda Carroll
Mar 26, 2014 Linda Carroll rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wonderful book. Smiley artfully made me care and worry about a character that never spoke a word - Justa Bob. She does it without ever anthropomorphizing him.
Elizabeth (Alaska)
This is a book with a HUGE cast of characters. In fact, the first 2 pages is the list of characters, from horse owners, trainers (and their assistants), breeders, jockeys, bettors, the horses themselves, and the racetracks. While the story is linear - even to the sections being dated - it does of necessity skip around to the various groups of characters, many of whom are relatively unknown to each other and who don't interact with the other groups of characters. I was not confused, although ther ...more
Harriett Milnes
Oct 15, 2012 Harriett Milnes rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 4-star-books
640 pages! Too long. I would have given it 5 stars, but for the length. It's about Thoroughbreds and owners and trainers and horses and love! Very enjoyable, but some of the characters were dropped at a point in the middle and then quickly reintroduced at the end. Some of the chapters felt like a New Yorker story. But, all in all, enjoyable.
Robert McKinnon
Aug 19, 2015 Robert McKinnon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed Horse Heaven so much that when I finished the last page, I turned back to the first.
May 08, 2008 Jack rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Fine novel by Jane Smiley, a favorite author. She gets inside the minds of the horses in a surprisingly believable way. Really enjoyed it.
May 24, 2007 Cat rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Part of me wants to say that this was just an interminable horse book, and that part of me is speaking with an honest voice (if a condescending and dismissive one). Smiley interweaves the tales of a central set of horses with the proliferating stories of owners, bettors, riders, trainers, breeders, etc., creating a kaleidoscopic effect as the reader glimpses the increasing patterns and events uniting them. Some parts seemed needlessly silly (a horse psychic?), others goofily erotic (not just the ...more
Janet Eshenroder
On loan from a friend. This book gives an intriguing glimpse into horse breeding, training and racing, into breeders, jockeys, veterinarians, owners, buyers & sellers, and those betting on the races. I've tried to imagine how this book could be written in another format and suppose this is the most reasonable way to approach a complex and detailed subject. Still, the book jumped from side-story to side-story and from character to character (lots of names and sub-plots that are initially hard ...more
Bronwyn Rykiert
I really enjoyed this story, though at first I was not sure what I had gotten myself into. It was 22 discs long which for me, is a big book. Half way through the book though I was really enjoying the story.

It is a story about racehorses, the horses, their owners, trainers, assistant trainers, grooms, vets and riders. Jane must really know her horses because when she became the horse and told us how they were feeling, to me, it was quite realistic.

There was Just a Bob, Epic Steam, Residual and Li
Apr 10, 2012 Sophie rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: I wouldn't recommend this book
I found the whole book a rather clinical, and extremely unenjoyable read. . .

The animal cruelty was horrific, it was dealt with in a clinical way and didn't stimulate the depth of emotion that such abuse should have.

I found the characters (both human and animal alike) lacking any feel, they seemed so emotionless, cold and lacking in depth.

Books very rarely leave me so disappointed. Horse Heaven didn't stimulate any feeling for the human characters, I would not have been even remotely sad if the
Nov 26, 2008 Brian rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I think I would really give this book 3.5 stars. I enjoyed the many, many different characters, all of whose lives revolve around horses and thoroughbred racing. And I learned a lot about horses.

The only thing keeping the book from receiving a higher rating was that it was a little too long. I loved the characters and all that happened with them, but there was generally not much in the way of plot, so I did not feel the book needed to be as long as it was.

Still, I did enjoy it and ended up readi
Dec 16, 2008 Randine rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Still trying to figure out how a horse lover like Smiley can be a race track enthusiast as she owns over 20 horses herself and races them. (I think racing is often cruel and is about human ego). But it's a wonderful story and she writes about people and horses equally well. Nice, big fat book to get involved with.

READ IT AGAIN! 2 years later. Such a good read, although I couldn't bring myself to read the last few chapters again. My memory remembered enough to know I would be crying like a baby s
Aug 20, 2012 Helen rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Even though I found Horse Heaven to be disjointed and too long, I enjoyed it. I would probably give it 3.5 stars. The animal characters were the most engaging. Some of the chapters felt like short stories, not necessarily integral to the book, but interesting nevertheless. An example of this would be the chapters about a father and son, Leo and Jesse. Once again, a writer trying to write a book in the spirit of Dickens, but not quite making it.

Overall, a pleasant read.
Lois Tucker
Sep 13, 2012 Lois Tucker rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Gone with the Wind for horses. FUN.
Mary Taitt
I liked it quite a bit, but it seemed a little disjointed at times.
Hazel Dehn
Mar 28, 2009 Hazel Dehn rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Terrible book....i hated every single person in this book....every single one! Even the horses couldn't make this story good!
Jenny Dunning
Jun 24, 2017 Jenny Dunning rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A really good read--as long as you can keep yourself from getting hung up on keeping all the equine and human characters straight. It will help if you're an animal lover, though not necessarily a horse person, as I'm not. As with all her books, Smiley creates a rich and deep world, the world of horse racing from those who labor at the tracks to those who own the prize animals. And there's some mystical stuff that works in this world, where luck and thus Lady Fortune plays a big role--animal comm ...more
heidi  cleveland
can't get into this book--not liking it. will try again later on. i'm thinking it might just be my frame of mind?
Jun 06, 2017 Morgan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Jane Smiley novels are comic versions of Robert Altman films. Ensemble pieces with immersive subject matter focusing on a small, strange, isolated world.
Nov 30, 2010 Brittany rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a lovely fat book, populated with well-drawn characters both human and equine. (And in one glorious case, canine.) What it is not, is a plot-driven book. There isn’t much of what one would call “action.” However, that is fine with me. I much prefer story to plot, and there’s more than enough of that to keep the book moving forward. This is a very organic book. It chronicles the lives of a handful of people as they intersect, weave, meander, and move through one another. It’s also an hone ...more
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Jane Smiley is a Pulitzer Prize-winning American novelist.

Born in Los Angeles, California, Smiley grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis, and graduated from John Burroughs School. She obtained a A.B. at Vassar College, then earned a M.F.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Iowa. While working towards her doctorate, she also spent a year studying in Iceland as a Fulbright Scholar
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“I’ve experienced having you in the house. It’s like living with a loud motor running all the time. Up, down, into this room and that room, eating supper, jumping from the table, cursing all the time, yelling over the telephone about things, laughing, making deals all the time. You take up a lot of space and make a lot of noise.” She” 0 likes
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