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They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  4,749 Ratings  ·  355 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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Glenn Russell
Sep 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Horace McCoy’s 1935 novel They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? contains one of the bleakest lines 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 in
Paul Bryant
Feb 05, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novels



Short and very brutal, this is a matter-of-fact account of the bleakest despair. The marathon dance contests of the 20s and 30s were like something dreamed up by Caligula but they really happened and the powers that be never saw fit to close them down, even as the young couples sagged to the floor from physical and mental exhaustion after only being allowed 10 minutes rest every two hours for three solid weeks. It was all “don’t worry folks, they’ll be back i
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
Oct 11, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Emily May
Aug 19, 2012 rated it did not like it  ·  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.
Apr 16, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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
Dec 05, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
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
May 10, 2012 rated it really liked it
“…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
Doug H
Feb 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kirk-recommended
This is definitely a dark little gem, but I really don’t see it as belonging to the Noir literary genre. To me, its violence and darkness seemed very peripheral to its more meditative existential content and I believe it shares more of an affinity with The Catcher in the Rye than The Big Sleep or Double Indemnity. Anyway, labels are always misleading. What really matters is that I thoroughly enjoyed it. And, in the process of enjoying it, I learned more than a few new things about the good bad o ...more
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
Jul 07, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: noir
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
May 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
* Read from LOA's exquisite Crime Novels: American Noir of the 1930s & 40s edition*

Horace McCoy's "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is a bleak, tautly written existential noir text which wouldn't look out of place in Arthur Schopenhauer's personal library. I imagine the old fellow perusing it with a satisfied grin on his face. It's his philosophy's perfect expression in many ways.

The novel takes place during the dance marathon craze of the 1930's. Impoverished, often mentally broken proletar
Jun 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A one-day bleak read. Relentless and great.

Noir's relationship with muckraking/social justice journalism is very much evident in this novel. The story's grim linear martch is fueled by the desperation of poverty.

Not as brilliant, as noir goes, as The Postman Always Rings Twice...but it's so confidently written that its flaws become moving. It captures a moment and an age.
Finding out the meaning of the title broke my heart!
Nancy Oakes
Nov 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  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
Dec 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
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
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 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
Jul 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
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
Jigar Brahmbhatt
Nov 14, 2013 rated it really liked it

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
Oct 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
Apr 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
Feb 27, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
[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
Dec 16, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Jul 25, 2013 rated it really liked it
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
May 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Shelves: read_2013
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.
Rebecca McNutt
This classic noir story is one that a lot of people have vaguely heard of because of the film, but I found the book is much better. It captures the era and the thoughts and emotions of the characters more than the film does, although the film is still really great, too.
Sep 07, 2010 rated it did not like it
Recommended to Brixton by: Gerald Prokop
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
Jan 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  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
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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
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