Tuesday, June 21, 2016

More than the Sport of Horse-racing, a Look at the American South

Henry Forge, a young boy who has just killed a neighbor's bull, runs through the cornfield to escape the thrashing he knows his father will give him. A horse appears in the field ridden by Filip, a black man who works for Henry's father. Filip coaxes the boy on to the horse, but instead of taking him for a ride, he deposits him with his father. Henry insists that he's not guilty. His father knows this is a lie, and it makes the beating worse, but Henry, unrepentant, comes away with a hatred of his father that plays out in the rest of the novel.

The Forges are one of the oldest families in Kentucky. Their long lineage is a tale of corn farmers who own huge tracts of land and slavery. Henry informs his father that he will change all that. He plans to turn the farm into a stable for raising thoroughbred horses. His father, exceedingly angry, tells Henry that he has no feel for his own bloodlines. However, when Henry becomes the owner of the farm, he does exactly what he said. With the help of his daughter Henriettta, a black man named Allmon, and a filly named Hellsmouth, he plans to change the orientation of the family.

This is one of the most beautifully written books I have read in a long time. The words are lyrical and the images vivid. Unfortunately, many of the images have to do with rape, violence, incest and cruelty. All these dark acts are the substance of the story which is essentially about racism. It is not an easy book to read.

The main characters Henry, Henrietta, and Allmon are not likable people. In spite of the excellent writing, they left me cold. The secondary characters are much more interesting, including Ruben, the jockey who rides Hellsmouth.

The setting is vivid and the many threads of the plot are expertly drawn together. If you enjoy a beautifully written novel that gives much to think about, you'll enjoy this book. I highly recommend it.

I received this book from Net Galley for this review.