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Horse Heaven

3.87  ·  Rating details ·  4,654 Ratings  ·  343 Reviews
"It's not true," says a character in Jane Smiley's funny, passionate, and brilliant new novel of horse racing, "that anything can happen at the racetrack," but many astonishing and affecting things do—and in Horse Heaven, we find them woven into a marvelous tapestry of joy and love, chicanery, folly, greed, and derring-do.

Haunting, exquisite Rosalind Maybrick, wife of a b
Mass Market Paperback, 640 pages
Published August 26th 2003 by Ballantine Books (first published 1999)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Jul 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: animals, 2fiction, 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
Debbie Zapata
March 15 ~~ Review coming tomorrow.

March 16 ~~ I gave this book four stars yesterday but while thinking over my reading experience before sitting to write this review I've dropped it down to three.

The basic idea of the whole thing is compelling: follow the stories of certain Thoroughbred horses during their first three years of life. Will they turn out to be the horses they were expected to be? What kind of drama will surround them and their people? (Because there is always drama around a horse
Jennifer (aka EM)
May 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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
Jan 01, 2009 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 rated it it was amazing
an epic poem in prose . . . about horse racing.
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
Aug 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I fell in love with a race horse named Justa Bob...
Linda Carroll
Mar 26, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jun 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Jan 22, 2009 rated it it was ok
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
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
Nov 24, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Harriett Milnes
Oct 15, 2012 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed Horse Heaven so much that when I finished the last page, I turned back to the first.
Lois Tucker
Sep 13, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Gone with the Wind for horses. FUN.
May 08, 2008 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was ok
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
Bronwyn Rykiert
Oct 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: audiobook, friends, family
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
Aug 20, 2012 rated it really liked it
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.
Janet Eshenroder
Dec 28, 2013 rated it liked it
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
Sep 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Is there any genre beyond the abilities of this wonderful author?

I have read many books by Jane Smiley, and only remember one I didn't find engaging (Lidie Newton: wasn't my thing). I've had Horse Heaven for years, and wasn't wildly excited about the subject, but decided to read it on the strength of her authorship.

I found it purely wonderful. She can write an attractive society woman with the same ease as she writes a philosophical horse trainer, for that matter she can write horses and a hyper
Apr 10, 2012 rated it did not like it
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
Joy H.
Added 7/26/12. (first published 1999)
July 6, 2018 - I borrowed this ebook from our public library.

July 9, 2018 - I am giving up on this book! I read 32% of the book. It is too hard to follow because there are too many characters and too many scene shifts. Very confusing and frustrating. The following GR review agrees with me:
"This was an awful book...I read to page 155 trying to give it a chance but it had way too many characters and every chapter was a page and a half
Nov 26, 2008 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 rated it it was amazing
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
Mary Taitt
Jan 31, 2015 rated it liked it
I liked it quite a bit, but it seemed a little disjointed at times.
Hazel Dehn
Mar 28, 2009 rated it did not like it
Terrible book....i hated every single person in this book....every single one! Even the horses couldn't make this story good!
Kilian Metcalf
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've been wanting to read Jane Smiley but was put off by the high prices her publishers demand for her books. When a copy of this book was on sale for $2.99, I gave it a shot. I am so glad I did. This farrago of characters kept me amused for months. As I neared the end, I read in smaller and smaller bites to make the book last longer.

For a reader like me, more interested in characters than plot, this book was made in heaven. It takes place over two years, and all the people and horses (and one d
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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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