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Horse Heaven

3.85 of 5 stars 3.85  ·  rating details  ·  3,929 ratings  ·  270 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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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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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)
Jun 25, 2012 Jennifer (aka EM) rated it 4 of 5 stars
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
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
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
an epic poem in prose . . . about horse racing.
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
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
Sep 03, 2012 Judy rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
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.
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
Fine novel by Jane Smiley, a favorite author. She gets inside the minds of the horses in a surprisingly believable way. Really enjoyed it.
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
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
Dec 15, 2013 Sophie rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  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
Linda Carroll
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.
Mary Taitt
I liked it quite a bit, but it seemed a little disjointed at times.
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
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
3.5 stars.
Jane Smiley is a courageous writer. She willingly takes risks, sometimes big risks, and she never writes the same book or even the same type of book. And in this age of pace, pace, pace, she risks telling sprawling, big books with numerous characters. She's an excellent writer - as in, master of the craft - and her A Thousand Acres is a far more successful reimagining of King Lear than, say, The Book of Edgar Sawtelle is of Hamlet.

All of which I bear in mind as I wrestle with my ambiva
Harriett Milnes
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.
Lisa Findley
A sprawling book, packed with all sorts of intriguing human and equine characters, comic misadventures, and tragic missteps. Also a narrow book, focused as it is on the world of horse racing; despite Smiley's and others' contention that it's the most democratic sport in the world because anyone at all can go to the track, her main characters are in the upper echelons of training and owning (just a few lowly bettors and jockeys show up here and there).

I was never a Girl Who Loved Horses, and I d
Elaine Burnes
The reviews pretty much say it all. This is a great, sprawling book with many characters, both human and not, that manages to suck you in and leave you broken and bereft at the end, not because it is sad, or that, like many a bettor of horses, you lost everything, but simply because you do not want it to end.

This was my first successful attempt at a Jane Smiley book (A Thousand Acres being the only other attempt, and now I might go back). There are so many characters that there’s a list at the f
Lynne Beavers
Like many of the other reviewers, I found the multiple storylines and human characters to be overwhelming and unrelated. I loved the horses and dog, though, and was much more interested in what happened to them. I disagree that this book is about horse racing -- it's set in the horse-racing world, and there are horse-racing events, but the book is about the characters, which I guess is why I only give it 3 stars. Just about the time you feel you are getting to know one of the characters, the aut ...more
Parry Kietzman
Slice of racing life? Slice of racing life where most of the characters are depressed and not easily distinguished from one another? It drags on in the middle with a lot of character introspection that never really goes anywhere and doesn't particularly add to the plot (or lack thereof), and eventually arrives at some sort of ending. The best chapters were those that focused on the horses themselves (and the horses were much more interesting characters than the humans). This definitely isn't the ...more
Hazel Dehn
Terrible book....i hated every single person in this book....every single one! Even the horses couldn't make this story good!
Rena Sherwood
It’s very difficult to find a novel about horses meant for adults and not kids. Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven (Ballantine Books; 1999) fills this gap. This is an epic-sized novel where the horses’ characters are gone into as much detail as the humans’. Although not all of the loose ends are tied up, this is still a satisfying read for the adult horse-lover.

If the name Jane Smiley sounds familiar, it’s because she won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction back in 1992 for A Thousand Acres (Alfred A. Knopf;
I went back and forth with this book. There is a wealth of inside information regarding the care of, abuse of, superstitions about, and shady dealings that surround professional horse racing—Smiley obviously did her research. I liked the numerous anecdotes about horses and race tracks and enjoyed the funny ‘horse’ jokes. However, this information is woven around a cast of 50+ characters including the main protagonists—six thoroughbred horses, and I think therein lies the difficulty. There was ju ...more
AN ADULT VERSION OF THE SADDLE CLUB, YAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY! I cannot believe it's taken me this long to discover Jane Smiley. Don't get me wrong - I wouldn't actually recommend this book to anyone besides myself, my mom, and maybe this one friend I had in college who came from Bakersfield, CA and used to ride her horse to school and also had never seen a crosswalk before moving to Berkeley and whose mother killed her exotic cat, Gizmo, by accidentally baking it in the dryer. WE ARE AMERICA AND WE ...more
I liked this book. Smiley's writing style is excellent and fluid and engaging. She shares a wealth of information about horses and the horse racing industry from owners to trainers. I serendipitously read an article about the horrible things that can happen to race horses when their short careers end. Smiley's book was completely accurate compared with the facts in the article.

I want to give the book more stars but I found I didn't get lost in it. It is one of those books that reads like a biog
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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
More about Jane Smiley...
A Thousand Acres Some Luck (Last Hundred Years: A Family Saga, #1) Moo The Sagas of Icelanders Private Life

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