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KPCW invites members of the Friends of the Park City and Summit County libraries to review novels and non-fiction every month.

October 2022 Book Review | "Horse"

Penguin Random House

Stories of a magnificent racehorse, a discarded painting, and a skeleton in the Smithsonian converge in a recent book by Geraldine Brooks. If you love horses, or even if you don’t but appreciate good historical fiction, "Horse" is a novel to dive into. 

Acclaimed writer Geraldine Brooks, author of “Caleb’s Crossing,” “March,” and “People of the Book,” has released a new novel on a topic she knows a lot about – horses – set against the backdrop of the antebellum South.

The novel centers on a legendary real-life thoroughbred racehorse, Lexington, and his devoted young groom, a slave named Jarrett in the 1850s. The historical narrative is woven with a present-day discovery of Lexington’s bones by a Smithsonian scientist named Jess, and a discarded painting of Lexington and Jarrett discovered by an art historian named Theo.

Jarrett was a slave to wealthy horse-racing Southern landowners, but managed, against great odds, to stay with his beloved horse, train him, and protect him from most - though not all - of the cruelty of horse racing in the 1850s.

Present day Jess and Theo form an interracial couple who work together to unravel Lexington’s and Jarrett’s 170-year old history. The parallel story of African-born Theo provides a comparison to Jarrett’s experience with injustice.

The story line alone isn’t what makes this book compelling. It is fine reading to accompany Jarrett as he builds an enduring trust with Lexington over both of their journeys to adulthood. Add to this the richly drawn characters, a nuanced description of daily life in the South, and the intricate workings of a collegial investigation into this small piece of history.

The book is written from the perspective of both historical and present-day characters, in alternating chapters. Unlike the choppy effect of this storytelling style in some books, in this case it flows easily, leading the reader to anticipate various new developments.

The intersecting story lines, 170 years apart, add depth and suspense. All is brought together by Geraldine Brooks’ fine prose and attention to physical and psychological detail.

“Horse” is available from the Park City and Summit County libraries. This is Amy Mills of Friends of the Park City Library.