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Lord of Misrule

3.35  ·  Rating details ·  2,923 ratings  ·  638 reviews
A brilliant novel that captures the dusty, dark, and beautiful world of small-time horse racing, where trainers, jockeys, grooms and grifters vie for what little luck is offered at a run-down West Virginia track .

Tommy Hansel has a plan: run four horses, all better than they look on paper, at long odds at Indian Mound Downs, then grab the purse -- or cash a bet -- and run
Hardcover, 294 pages
Published November 15th 2010 by McPherson (first published 2010)
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Laurie Reilly I have no answers for you, but I feel the same way. I'm currently reading this and know nothing about horses or horse racing. I think that's part of m…moreI have no answers for you, but I feel the same way. I'm currently reading this and know nothing about horses or horse racing. I think that's part of my difficulty. In addition, some of the characters speak in a southern manner that I'm also not used to. That makes it hard to follow as well. Sometimes, while reading this book, I feel like I'm reading a language that is not quite English. Anyway, I'm attempted to get through it since it IS an award winning book. We'll see...(less)

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Jeffrey Keeten
Sep 07, 2015 rated it it was amazing
”She had her highborn air, dexter, and right next to it she had her lowborn air, sinister, which also came of being a Jew, an outcast, a gypsy, and not giving one goddamn. She could up and follow a racetracker, a coarse adventurer, if she so chose. Moreover you could get to her through her body. It was a black, rich, well-watered way, between rock faces.

The word podzol came to mind.

The word humus. Soil. Slut.

You could ask all you wanted of that flesh, you could whisper outrages into her ear a
Chuck Lowry
Jan 20, 2011 rated it it was ok
I guess, honestly, I must have missed something. I read this book for two reasons, because it won the National Book Award and because it was about horseracing, in which I have had great interest at various times in my life. Ah, but the National Book Award--Walker Percy for The Moviegoer, Alice McDermott for Charming Billy, Saul Bellow for The Adventures of Augie March, Bernard Malamud for The Fixer. Add Lord of Misrule to these and it is an easy game of "Which Doesn't Belong and Why?"

It is poss
Jul 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
I had a love-hate relationship with this book, or at least a like-hate relationship. I have to admit I'm surprised it won a National Book Award. That's the best there is out there? Ugh. It is everything stereotypically bad about the backside of a racetrack. Broken down claimers held together with glue (and a myriad of drugs, legal and illegal), gamblers fixing races, the organized crime mafioso lording it over the lesser humans at the track, a brutal breakdown during a race, and a woman in starr ...more
Daniel Clausen
Sep 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-of-2017
The novel sit on the cracked counter of a Veloce chain coffee shop, crease-weary, and smelling of seven-year-old pages. The yellowing hadn't started, but that would come soon nough. One more coffee spill on her front page might make her a used up, spoiled thing, but she ain't no spoiled thing, and I be careful where I put my coffee. She's still got three or four good reads in her, yet. In older days, she would be read up 20 to 30 times before people lose interest. Then she'd sit on the shelf of ...more
Dec 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing
this book is really, really, really good and you must read it. it may not be for everyone (what book is) but, man, this woman can write, and the story is fantastic. i love these characters. i love the horses. i love the low fog that keeps you from seeing your feet at 4 in the morning. i like how madness slowly creeps into a character and makes him both repellant and awesome. i like the tough women. i LOVE medicine ed. it's a small world but so, so rich. kind of like a family-run freak show, but ...more
Kathi Defranc
Oct 18, 2017 rated it liked it
This was an enjoyable book to read for me, as I have been to small racetracks and lived on the backside, so knew all types of people as we all tried to ready our horses to bring home the money. The book is written beautifully, with descriptions of things and people that take me back. The folks on the backstretch live a tough life, you work hard to keep feeding your animals and yourself, it is a city unto itself. Rarely does anyone leave the racetrack, you eat in the track kitchen, sleep in a tac ...more
Feb 08, 2011 rated it it was ok
I can see how this is the kind of thing people like - it's written in poetical dialect, and it focuses on a very oldfashioned, very specific subculture, and racing is the kind of space that brings people together, so you can have the old black groom, and the young jewish woman, and the crazy irishman.... And since it takes place in the fuzzy old 1970s, there were more regionalisms, no cellphones, less stuff.... I don't know. It was enjoyable enough in its own way, and maybe it's partly difficult ...more
Mar 20, 2011 rated it it was ok
Well this one really fizzles out. I stuck with it to the end, because I did enjoy the style. I was in the mood to be challenged by a book, and Lord of Misrule is challenging. No skimming! you have to read every word and some sentences are more like puzzles. Dialect and racing argot and convoluted syntax and weird nicknames ("It was not a harming goofer that Medicine Ed knew the making of.") And no quotation marks to help you follow the dialogue:
Medicine Ed laughed a little. I reckon that G
Mar 12, 2011 rated it it was ok
Lord of Misrule is the story of the trainers, grooms, jockeys and assorted hangers on at a seedy racetrack in West Virginia. I love horse racing and so I eagerly anticipated the novel, especially after learning that it had won the National Book Award.
Unfortunately, little about the story rang true. The story is told from the point of view of several characters, a technique that is quickly becoming hackneyed. One of the characters is Medicine Ed, the African American groom. Ed's narration is su
Maya Lang
Jul 17, 2014 rated it it was amazing
As Janet Maslin points out in her lovely review in the New York Times, the fact that this novel won the National Book Award makes Jaimy Gordon herself a kind of dark horse. It thrills me that this novel won, because it is the kind of challenging, inventive novel that doesn't sell many copies or get noticed by the big outlets (certainly, the Times had never taken notice of Gordon) because it is so *different.*

So, a quick word: this is not a novel for everyone. If I were teaching this novel, I wou
Jul 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
This novel invites the reader into the lives of broken people in broken relationships populating the seedy backside of a small race track in West Virginia. Gordon masterfully captures the colloquial slang of the horse race scene in both the dialogues and internal monologues of the characters. In fact, it is so authentic that I was often confused about what was actually being communicated. Violent sex, murder, fraudulent schemes, this is the world of the characters that Gordon introduces the read ...more
Jan 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
I feel like I almost know the writer too well to really respond impartially to this book; I had her as a teacher, once read almost all her works to prepare to interview her, etc. So, I'm at once really primed to like Jaimy's work, but also perversely in tune to how she sometimes repeats herself.

In this book, we get another version of the precocious female narrator, the same one we've seen in Bogeywoman, She Drove, and in one could argue, The Bend, The Lip, the Kid. It's a little awkward, too, gi
Nov 20, 2010 rated it really liked it
What an unusual novel!

I found Lord of Misrule a difficult read. It is not a "page turner that you can not wait to get back to". Ms. Gordon uses a staccato cadence and pacing which never settles into a comfortable flow. There are several deep dialects that never become familiar. You are not always sure who is speaking to whom, even occasionally whether human is speaking to human or to an animal.

This is not a book about horse racing. It is a book about hardscrabble people in a hardscrabble place
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2013
Avg 3.24? Really? I absolutely loved the writing in this novel--it was fearless, raw, challenging. Perhaps that accounts for the absurdly low rating--clearly, Gordon doesn't care if people are turned off by her characters or content. But it's also not gratuitous; this is not a writer being flashy or going over the top. It's a refreshingly honest portrayal of a group of people at the bottom, all working, scheming, and dreaming to make it big in the world of horse-racing. But not Kentucky Derby-ho ...more
Mar 05, 2011 rated it liked it
Recommended to Bev by: Richard Nash
Shelves: fiction
Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon opens with "Inside the back gate of Indian Mound Downs, a hot-walking machine creaked round and round. In the judgment of Medicine Ed, walking a horse himself on the shedrow of Barn Z, the going-nowhere contraption must be the lost soul of this cheap racetrack where he been ended up at." That hot-walking machine provides the metaphor for the cheap claiming race track at the rock-bottom end of the sport of kings.

Gordon's National Book Award winner is all about the
Nov 23, 2010 rated it really liked it
Most of us, when we think of horse racing, conjure up a mint-juleps-and-roses vision of the Kentucky Derby or perhaps, Churchill Downs, attended by jewel-studded rich folk dressed up in their finery with cash to burn.

But at the rock-bottom end of the sport, horse racing is a whole other world – a world inhabited by down-on-their-luck trainers and jockeys, loan sharks and crooks, gyps and hotwalkers. This is the world Jaimy Gordon takes on – Indian Mound Downs, where the horses are mostly aging,
Joan Colby
May 29, 2012 rated it it was amazing
. I recognized I was in the presence of a fine talent when early on I encountered this description: “He was an unhealthy looking man of a drained cement color.” And of course, I fell for what Hemingway would call “the true gen” of the racetrack setting and characters. One is inclined to think Gordon must have spent years on the backside, but the probability is that, as an English professor, she relied on research. I’d love to know though, as the verisimilitude of “Lord of Misrule” is remarkable. ...more
Jan 26, 2011 rated it did not like it
There's a reason for using certain styles, like dialog with quotes, he said & she said. This is all mixed up with some sentences being thoughts while others are apparently supposed to be dialog. Seems like the author knows what he/she is talking about, but it's just too much work trying to read this. ...more
Jun 11, 2013 rated it liked it
This book was a victim of inflated expectations and anticipation. I wanted to like it; I wanted to love it. Wanted to love it so much that I put off reading it for months, which stretched into years. I wanted this book to complete a literary Triple Crown, the fictional leg of an Equine Trilogy that included the bio /history "Seabiscuit," by Laura Hillenbrand, and the memoir
Laughing in the Hillsby Bill Barich. I wanted Secretariat winning the Belmont by 30 lengths and got a raw, gutsy 'mudder' wi
Jan 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Winner of the National Book Award but for the life of me I can't figure out why. There are good things about it and Gordon writes some very vivid images, but the book was uneven at best. It is the early 70's at a seedy horse track in West Virginia. There are mafia types fixing races and beating up the locals. The characters are sketchy in both senses of the word. Sometimes dramatic things are happening to them without enough explanation. The style is odd. There are multiple narrators and it's ha ...more
Joe Drape
Nov 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Wow. This is the best book I've read in a long time, finished it in one sitting. It also is quite rightfully a finalist for the National Book Award. It's true literature. Anyone who knows anything about horse racing will be captivated as Gordon perfectly evokes the beauty and grit as well as the desperation and hope of racetrackers who inhabit a down and out track in West Virginia. There's a gentlemanly loan shark, a broken down groom, a crazy trainer, a crooked one and a head strong girl. Some ...more
Sara Warner
Oct 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: literary, greatest, horses
This is a wildly great novel. Jaimy Gordon creates the seedy and dangerous life of the dregs of the horse racing world...claiming races, broken down horses and people struggling to hang on to their last square inch of power. Gordon is a magician with language. She envelopes this weird and grittily exotic world in a fog of desire, cruelty, love and nobility, never letting up on her breakneck race to save what matters--if only we can figure out what that is. She is a story-teller extraordinaire, a ...more
Amber Scaife
Dec 08, 2017 rated it it was ok
While I recognize that there are things to admire about this book (the writing shines in a few places, and the characters are well-crafted), I can't say that I enjoyed it. Or even particularly liked it. Because there are also things here that I demonstrably didn't enjoy: the sex scenes were icky (thankfully there were only a couple), and the racetrack details were beyond my ken. I admit that this last fault is my own, since I know very close to nothing about horse racing, although I suppose a ca ...more
Rachel Ludwig
Apr 03, 2011 rated it really liked it
Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule is an excellent and unique read. The setting is Indian Mound Downs, a rundown racetrack in West Virginia. There are four main characters: Tommy Hansel and Maggie Koderer who hope of winning big and moving on to the next track; Medicine Ed, the old groom who dreams of winning enough to retire to Florida; and the loan shark and loner, Two-Tie, who is growing increasingly tired of the racetrack game. Gordon constructs these characters as well as a myriad of other char ...more
Feb 15, 2013 rated it it was amazing
There is a reason Lord of Misrule won the National Book Award. Gordon expertly employees four separate third-person narrators (well, one is actually second-person) throughout the entire book. Each chapter dives into a different characters head and never once does the reader feel at a loss for who is the focus.

Every character in this book is trying to stack the odds in their favor to either simply survive in or walk away very rich from the horse racing world. The truth is that they are all suscep
David Granger
May 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing
First, I have to confess to a bias: I love horse racing! I love the lore and I love watching those beautiful animals run for the roses, the black-eyed susans, whatever. And I know a little about the sport. I know what a "claimer" is and I also knew, coming into this book, that horse-racing --- particularly at the smaller, lesser-known tracks --- has its ugly underbelly.

So, with that disclaimer out of the way, I loved Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon. I have to admit to being thrown a bit at the b
Oct 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
Lord of Misrule is a really good book, but I almost didn’t realize it. I read it more out of a sense of hometown pride—Hey, someone who teaches in Kalamazoo, Michigan won the National Book Award!—than any real knowledge of or interest in the book.
And at first I was stumped: Gordon takes us into a world that seems so foreign and gritty—the world of horse racing—and leaves us there to fend for ourselves. I know nothing about horse racing and have never been interested in it, and Gordon doesn’t
Kat Hagedorn
Sep 18, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed, fiction

Absolutely, I would title my book after the best horse name in the biz. (Or at least the best horse name in this book.) I think "Lord of Misrule" trumps "Pelter," "Little Spinoza," and "Little Boll Weevil" (although that last one is fairly awesome). Strangely, though, this book isn't really about horses. It's about how we've transformed horses into a substrata of American culture, and all the wonderful and scuzzy things that come from having done that.

I'm sure the book
Feb 24, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I have to be honest, the only reason I picked this book up was because the author, Jaimy Gordon, was going to be giving a lecture in town. I didn't care about small-stakes horse racing, and I'm always wary of award winners. As soon as I finished the second chapter, though, I was hooked, and the novel kept getting better from there. Gordon crafts a collection of excellent characters, from the young and naive Maggie, to the veteran Medicine Ed (whose dialect is pitch perfect and never difficult to ...more
Rebecca Renner
Nov 02, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: horse-books
The first time I read this book, I totally hated it. I'm glad I gave it another chance. It is completely voice-driven. So if that isn't your thing, or if you know zilch about horse racing, this might not be the book for you. ...more
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Jaimy Gordon's third novel, Bogeywoman was on the Los Angeles Times list of Best Books for 2000. Her second novel, She Drove Without Stopping, brought her an Academy-Institute Award for her fiction from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Gordon's short story, "A Night's Work," which shares a number of characters with Lord of Misrule, appeared in Best American Short Stories 1995. She is also ...more

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10 likes · 1 comments
“Her hands felt their way blindly along the ridges and canyons and defiles of the spine, the firm root-spread hillocks of the withers. She rolled her bony knuckles all along the fallen tree of scar tissue at the crest of the back, prying up its branches, loosening its teeth. And it must be having some effect: when she walked Pelter these days he wasn't the sour fellow he used to be, he was sportive, even funny. She had walked him this morning until the rising sun snagged in the hackberry thicket. As they swung around the barn, she took a carrot from her pocket and gave him the butt and noisily toothed the good half herself. He curvetted like a colt, squealed, and cow-kicked alarmingly near her groin. Okay, okay, she said, and handed it over. She was glad there was no man around just then to tell her to show that horse who was boss. When they were back in the stall and she turned to leave, she found he had taken he whole raincoat in his mouth and was chewing it--the one she was wearing. She twisted around with difficulty and pried it out of his mouth. He eyed her ironically. Just between us, is this the sort of horse act I really ought to discipline? she asked him, smoothing out her coat. I simply incline to your company, he replied.” 4 likes
“He was insane, he thought people were trying to destroy him, to suck out his guts, but, she noted, in the rare event that someone was trying to destroy you, to suck out your guts, insanity was a goodly metaphysics.” 3 likes
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