Saturday, June 25, 2016

The Sport of Kings

Author: C.E. Morgan
Publisher: Macmillan, 2016
My Source: Carmichael's Bookstore

Recently I attended a book reading at Carmichael's by C.E. Morgan, author of the new novel, The Sport of Kings. Morgan, who grew up in Cincinnati and attended Berea College and Harvard Divinity School, calls Berea, Kentucky home. Morgan did not take questions or talk about her book (except to say that it took nine years to write), she simply read excerpts from her book, letting it be the star of the show.

Themes of wealth, poverty, slavery, racism, sex, and rage prevail in this epic saga about Henry Forge, a boy who grows up in the 1950's on a farm in Paris, Kentucky with a brutally strict father and deaf mother. He yearns to turn the family crop farm into a horse farm to breed and raise thoroughbreds for racing. His father is vehemently opposed to this idea, but Henry does it anyway after his father's death.

As an adult he marries and has a daughter, Henrietta, whom he grooms from a young age to take over his horse farm. His wife, Judith, leaves when Henrietta is a young child. Henry and Henrietta breed and raise many horses and dream of winning the Kentucky Derby and Triple Crown. They suffer ups and downs throughout the process and their journey comes to an unexpected ending.

I'm finding this book hard to describe and review due to its expansive nature. This ambitious book felt like several stories in one because it spans several generations and introduces new characters throughout.

There are six long chapters with five interludes between them plus an epilogue at the end. The interludes are like mini stories themselves. They do not include the characters of the main story but instead introduce interesting new characters with adjacent themes such as horse racing, slavery, and a new imagining of the creation story.

I found the book to be very engaging at first and it seemed to move at a quick pace, but about 2/3 of the way in I felt like the pace slowed down, and I was less interested, but still motivated to read on to find out what was going to happen to the characters

At 545 pages this hefty book with dense language and obscure words took a little getting used to. I could not read it in a noisy place because it required a lot of concentration. The author uses heavily descriptive metaphors which at times feel like tangents. Also there is not a lot of dialog between characters as much of the action takes place in the characters' minds.

Professional reviews of this book say that its strengths outweigh its flaws. One even considers it the great American novel. That being said it is not for the casual reader because it requires quite a bit of effort. But if you feel ambitious this book is worth the challenge.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 high fives

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