A YEAR AT THE RACES by Jane Smiley


Reflections on Horses, Humans, Love, Money, and Luck
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Novelist Smiley (Good Faith, 2003, etc.) portrays her life with horses in a text full of quirks, neuroses, personal insights, theories, and lots of polished vignettes.

“Before I was a mother, before I was a writer, before I knew the facts of life, before I was a schoolgirl, before I learned to read, I wanted a horse,” writes Smiley in this rangy memoir, which encompasses a whole lot more than a year at the racetrack. She gets one too, thanks to generous parents, and soon learns that “every horse story is a love story . . . (or, to be cooler about it, mutual attachment).” She draws upon a huge body of anecdotal material, much of it her own, to get at a horse’s individuality, the idiosyncrasies and character traits that shade into something called identity. She explores the kinesthetic, psychological, and spatial intelligence possessed by horses; she comments on Thoroughbred companionability (a concept horsemen tend to scoff at), arguing that the animals seem to take pleasure in wandering or sparring and actually “like to form hierarchies.” Smiley is a close observer, and what she notes is always interesting: a particular horse’s desire for ritual, the intricate social world at the backside of the track, the expense of horses as compared to kids (“though it costs as much to keep a racehorse at Santa Anita as it does to keep a child at Harvard, the payoff can come within months”). Some of her experiences are truly strange: her relationship with a horse communicator whose talent is not just uncanny, but surreal; episodes with an “energy healer,” not quite as otherworldly as those with the communicator but possessing their own mystical singularity.

The surety and glow of her prose fragrantly convey the author’s sensuous and protective love for horses; she’s the kind of mother any foal would be lucky to have.

Pub Date: April 20th, 2004
ISBN: 1-4000-4058-2
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Knopf
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1st, 2004


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