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High as the Horses' Bridles

3.50  ·  Rating details ·  308 ratings  ·  53 reviews
A Washington Post Top 50 of 2014 Fiction pick
A Wall Street Journal Book of the Year, selected by Phil Klay
Electric Literature 2014: Year of the Debut
A Largehearted Boy Favorite Novel of 2014
Slaughterhouse 90210's Most Rapturous Book of 2014
Vol. 1 Brooklyn A Year of Favorites: Jason Diamond picks

Called "powerful and unflinching" by Column McCann in The New York Times Book
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published July 8th 2014 by Henry Holt and Co.
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Average rating 3.50  · 
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Ron Charles
Feb 26, 2014 rated it liked it
If you were raised, as I was, in a small church with intense ideals at odds with mainstream culture, you can remember that awkward pressure to stand apart from the world and, as the Bible commands, be “separate.” There’s a price to be paid for that separateness, especially during those adolescent years of desperate belonging, but there are compensatory rewards, too. Some smug atheist might imagine that the devout live in a state of bovine credence, but for me — and for many people I know — faith ...more
Chris Horne
Feb 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
I plan to re-read Scott Cheshire's debut novel, "High As the Horses' Bridles," and re-review it too. But I was so moved by it and so engrossed in it, I decided to write something now.

Full disclosure: Scott Cheshire's agent, Carrie Howland, of Donadio & Olsen, is a friend of mine, and she's been a guest at the Crossroads Writers Conference, which I co-founded in Macon, Georgia.

She sent me the book. But when she first asked if I'd be interested, I held my breath. I was scared to death it was
Steph Post
Jul 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Stunning, bold and beautiful. This may be Cheshire’s first novel, but from the first page it is clear to readers that they are in the gentle hands of a master craftsman. The story of reluctant child prophet Josiah Laudermilk oscillates throughout time, dipping and spinning through present, past and history, creating a multi-layered portrait of the American religious experience. The narrative focuses on Josiah’s return to his ailing, mentally unstable father and their complicated relationship, ...more
Mar 29, 2015 rated it it was ok
I had high hopes for this debutnovel, having read good reviews of it on its release last year, but ultimately I was left disappointed.

The book is mainly written from the point of view of recently divorced Josiah Laudermilk, a 37 year old brought up in a fundamentalist Christian household in Queens, NYC. The novel starts with a flashback to 1980, as Josiah is about to take the stage in a large community church to deliver a sermon, which turns out to be a defining moment in his life. Part 1 covers
Jul 16, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Cheshire's debut, while not flawless, is absolutely striking. The small missteps, some unevenness with the protagonist's unfolding characterization, are dwarfed by his emotional generosity and eloquent treatment of faith. Where lesser authors might have overshot, heavy-handedly using religiosity and faith to tell the story of humanity's shortcomings, our thirst for redemption, our relentless pursuit of the Holy Other; Cheshire remains focused. Though the Laudermilk family reveals plenty about ...more
Jan 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
At the age of twelve, Josiah Laudermilk testifies in front of his massive congregation in Queens, New York with the untempered belief that the apocalypse will come in the year 2000. Years later, with the apocalypse prediction behind him, recently divorced Josiah leaves his home in California to care for his father who has started to unravel after his mother’s death.

High as the Horses’ Bridles circles around faith, both its presence and absence, particularly in the face of illness and death.
Tyson Strauser
Aug 26, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: leisure
Cheshire's first novel is a book I am supposed to say is excellent on artistic grounds. It has flowing poetic prose, vivid imagery, and sweeping, detailed depictions of fanatical church life in a small congregation in 1980s Queens. It is a story of a man's lost hope and his nostalgic remembering of his childhood neighborhood as he confronts his ailing father spiraling after the loss of his mother.

The book doesn't tell a coherent or complete story, though. And, it also turns the church community
Dec 23, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read2014
Structurally, I'm reminded of UNDERWORLD, albeit dealing with fundamentalist Christianity, visions, and what a belief in the certainty of the apocalypse will do to one's head.
Deniz Kuypers
For a secular country, America is exceedingly religious. Yet, religious beliefs are largely absent from contemporary fiction. Fifty years ago, Flannery O’Connor, in her essay “Novelist and Believer,” wrote that the biggest struggle in life, and therefore the prime topic for writers, was “the salvation or loss of the soul.” Plenty of writers nowadays weave religion into their work – McCann, DeLillo, Eugenides – but more often than not for decorative purposes only; contemporary plots rarely ...more
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing
An Emotionally Intense Fictional Depiction of Contemporary Fundamentalist Christian Faith

In the streetwise realism of 1980 and present-day Queens, New York, Scott Chesire's "High as the Horses' Bridles", echoes the gritty realism found in the best novels of Pete Hamill and Jimmy Breslin. But it is more, much more, than a very good New York City-centric novel bordering on greatness. Its universal themes of seeking love and redemption should appeal to those unfamiliar with New York City, a debut
Jul 24, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Totally engrossing. An un-sappy father/son/holy spirit relationship story that kicks off with a 12-year-old preacher predicting the end of days in a perfectly detailed Queens of 1980 (complete with milk carton kids). As interesting as that was, the story really picks up steam when the world doesn't end and the adult version of the child preacher has to come to terms with his loss of faith and complicated relationships with his father and ex-wife.

For the first time in my life I wanted a flight to
Jun 07, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is truly stunning. The synopsis had me hooked before I even cracked it open. Josie is a hell of a character, and shows that you can never really go home again, in a way that I've never really seen before. Understanding how such a church works is something not a lot of people can get so spot on. The opening chapters feel free of bias and I almost wished it would continue for the rest of the book, the attention to detail. I think this should be a must read for those that are struggling ...more
Apr 12, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: first-reads
Copy received through Goodreads’ First Reads program.

Some years ago, I was sitting in a class suffering through a particularly opaque European art film when the professor leaned over to my friend and said, “I already know I’m a dumb audience member. I don’t need this movie to tell me that.” I’ve thought of that moment often when I’ve encountered difficult movies or novels like this one, and although I really enjoyed a great deal of this novel - particularly its vivid, powerful, untethered
Jul 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Originally posted on my blog, A Lovely Bookshelf on the Wall:

High as the Horses' Bridles follows the Laudermilks, a family obsessed with the end of days. At the age of twelve and already known as a talented boy preacher, their only son, Josiah, stands before his church and shares an apocalyptic vision in which he declares that the end of days will occur in the year 2000. Not long after, Josie begins to doubt the validity of his own prophecy.

This novel is an interesting look into the high hopes
This is one of those books that after you finish it make you really wonder what you just read.

And for most books that's probably a negative but oddly enough it was this book's brilliance as a novel that made question this.

Looking back I'm not sure what I expected this book to be about but I'm pretty sure it wasn't this.

In all honesty it blew those expectations away.

This is a story that moves through time pretty freely. It's not linear in the perfect sense of the word. You glimpse time out of
Sep 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love how this book is a first person story about a relationship between a father and son sandwiched between two very distinct third person narratives. In the first section, we jump around from character to character and by doing this, Cheshire paints the scene for us and it is a scene we need to explore because it returns again and again as we learn about what happens to the protagonist.

I was really taken with the sentences in that first section. The voice reminded me of a guy at the bar who
Sean Owen
Sep 02, 2014 rated it liked it
There has been a trickle of recent books that want to treat religion seriously. These books, while not typically coming from religious writers still want to treat the subject of religion seriously. It's probably a backlash against the Hitchens/Dawkins strain of anti-religious atheism that rose up as a polar opposite to the vocal conservative Christian movements that exploded onto the scene in the 80s. Despite where one's own beliefs may lie American history and culture are too intertwined to be ...more
Olivia Hinebaugh
Mar 28, 2014 rated it it was amazing
This book struck so many chords with me, it's hard to list them all. (But I will try.)

1. The language was gorgeous. Poetic, vivid, memorable and emotional. And it just carried me along through the story and inside Josiah's life.
2. There was so much to think about in terms of family culture and what things we inherit from our parents (and their parents and on and on). How our relationships with our parents change when we realize they aren't infallible.
3. The romantic relationships were so honest
Apr 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I received this Advance Reader Copy from the Early Reviewers program at LibraryThing. I have no idea (well, okay, I have some) about why I was so captivated by this book. The writer intersperses some pretty philosophical statements into the fictional story, something that can sometimes annoy me. But every time, they so closely resembled my own philosophies that it all rang true. This book is about a boy raised in a fundamentalist cult-like church, he himself being a prophesier from a young age. ...more
Mar 23, 2015 rated it liked it
When I read the first part of this book I told a friend "I am reading a five star book, unless it falls apart." So, the good news is the book did not fall apart, but the bad news here is that, at least for me, the book did not live up to its early potential. There is some very good writing here and some interesting and thoughtful observations about religion, relationships, place, time, life and death... a whole slew of things. Unfortunately, the powerful writing that I loved at the beginning ...more
Jun 17, 2016 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I could tell about 40 pages in that I was going to like, but not love, this book, and I was right.

The prose is great, the ideas work, and the interplay between the character's past and his present enable Cheshire to do some nice character work with Josiah/Josie. I wanted to know more about the disappearance of a certain character, but the way that Josie wrestles with desire, especially in relation to his ex-wife, kept me reading.

The plot is neat and tidy, and the downward spiral of Josie's
Kirsten T
This was one of The Millions’s most anticipated releases for August, and I picked it up because the summary sounded interesting: Child prodigy Jehovah’s Witness preacher in 1980’s Queens prophesies the apocalypse in 2000. He grows up, grows away from the church, and away from his family. The Kid Prophet stuff was interesting, but the majority of the book was concerned with the father/son dynamic between a grownup Josiah Laudermilk and his declining father. I wasn’t captured by this (maybe it was ...more
Charles Barragan
Feb 06, 2015 rated it really liked it
A fascinating read about a young man adrift and forced to reconcile with his religious father and all the memories that come with their reintroduction to each other's POV. Some of the violent allusions were challenging to read, but nothing stronger that what one would find in a religious tome. Only two areas of real concern to this reader: the first is the disappearance of Josiah Laudermilk's best friend and the way closure was portrayed in the narrative. The second was the final chapter dealing ...more
Apr 04, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-2014
A friend gave me this advanced reader copy based on the title and cover. She thought it would be similar to The Son by Phillip Meyer, which I loved. I can see why she suspected it of being "western," but it isn't, not one bit. I liked the story of a father/son relationship colored by the father's religious devotion to a sect that has been predicting Armageddon for 200 years, but I found parts of it problematic. There seemed to be several major continuity errors, and sometimes the story, which is ...more
Larry Olson
Jan 31, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The Apocalypse, or Revelation to John, the last book of the Bible, is one of the most difficult to understand because it abounds in unfamiliar and extravagant symbolism, which at best appears unusual to the modern reader. Symbolic language, however, is one of the chief characteristics of apocalyptic literature, of which this book is an outstanding example. Scott Cheshire, with his astonishing High as the Horses’ Bridles, delivers a haunting and complex story that takes us on a journey that ...more
Sep 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Moving from an apocalyptic style suitable to the main character's role as a child preacher in the Queens of the 1980's, the author delves gradually into a consideration of his 'designation' by his father as a child prophet, his father's domination of him, his marriage and his own new 'awakening'.

For me, the story moved slowly at first. The author, however, later engrossed me in his private 'revelations' about marital love, familial
devotion and faith. He reveals the underpinnings of the
S. A. Shepherd
Jun 19, 2014 rated it it was ok
Interesting book.
It showed a portrait of two people-son and father-trying to understand each other, yet continuing to find themselves lost and baffled by the other.
When the son comes back to his childhood home to check on his father, he is disturbed by both his father's living conditions and the state of his father's mind. Through glimpses into the son's memory, it becomes apparent that something has been...not right for some time. At the end of the book the son is still struggling to
Sheldon Lee Compton
Oct 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
My first thought was to rate this three stars and then I remembered it was a debut novel. Also, when Chesire is on, he's really on.

The first chapter coupled with the last chapter really made this book for me. Seeing it wrap together like that.

The Josie/Sarah aspect of the story sometimes felt like a completely different book at times, but that can be the case with first novels - a bit of a fragmented feel.

But it's deserving of a read for many reasons, not the least of which is that it boldly
Jul 17, 2014 rated it liked it
They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia.

I found this book really fascinating but I finished it disappointed and wanting more. More history, more details about the history of the Laudermilks. The details were so striking and the language was great. I just wanted some more of the mysteries that Gil alluded to, to be unpacked for the reader. I know real life can be disappointing in
Debbie Maskus
Apr 26, 2014 rated it it was ok
The story begins with a bang and then quickly fizzles. A young boy preaches to a huge audience about the coming of the end of the world, and then the story cuts to the present and the disillusion of the now grown man. Josiah Laudermilk enters the story as a boy wonder, but returns home to care for his father as both men grapple with loss of faith. I lost my way in the story and never found the correct door to enjoy the book. I had difficulty with reading this novel, as many sentences made no ...more
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Scott Cheshire is the author of High as the Horses' Bridles (Henry Holt). His work has been published in AGNI, Electric Literature, Guernica, Harper’s, One Story, Slice, and the Picador Book of Men. He lives in New York City.