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Authors: Jaimy Gordon

Lord of Misrule

BOOK: Lord of Misrule
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Praise for Jaimy Gordon’s

Lord of Misrule

“Both richly literary and red-blooded in its depictions of the sporting life.”

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel


“An exuberant, jazzy novel about rough characters—both equine and two-footed.”

The Plain Dealer


“Gordon’s characters … are complex and finely drawn.… [Gordon] unspools a plot of corruption and intrigue.”

The New Yorker


“Moody, poetic, darkly funny prose.”



“[A] magical tale about a dusty West Virginia town and its down-trodden racetrack.”



“Unlike any novel you’ll read this year—and maybe next.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer


“A tour de force of energy and esprit.”

Kirkus Reviews


“Moving and lyrical … [A] nearly word perfect novel.”



“Gordon’s writing will grab and pull you in.”

Bloomberg News



Lord of Misrule

Jaimy Gordon’s third novel,
, was on the
Los Angeles Times
list of Best Books for 2000. Her second novel,
She Drove Without Stopping
, brought her an Academy 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 the author of a novella,
Circumspections from an Equestrian Statue
, and the fantasy classic novel
Shamp of the City-Solo
. Gordon teaches at Western Michigan University in Kalamazoo and in the Prague Summer Program for Writers.


Circumspections from an Equestrian Statue


The Bend, The Lip, The Kid: Reallife Stories


She Drove Without Stopping


Shamp of the City-Solo






Copyright © 2010 by Jaimy Gordon


All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Vintage Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York, and in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Originally published in the United States by McPherson & Company, New York, in 2010.


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.


Parts of this novel originally appeared in slightly different form in
Blue Mesa Review


Grateful acknowledgment is made to Simon and Schuster, Inc. for permission to reprint:
A brief quote from
Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing
by Tom Ainslie.


The Cataloging-in-Publication data is available on file at the Library of Congress.


Cover design by John Gall


Cover photograph © Henry Horenstein/Getty Images


eISBN: 978-0-307-94674-4




This book is for Margie Gordon,


for Bubbles Riley,
still beating that devil


and, of course, for Hilry.


ithout claiming races there would be no racing at all. Owners would avoid the hazards of fair competition. Instead, they would enter their better animals in races against the sixth- and twelfth-raters that occupy most stalls at most tracks.… This would leave little or no purse money for the owners of cheap horses. The game would perish.

The claiming race changes all that. When he enters his animal in a race for $5,000 claiming horses, the owner literally puts it up for sale at that price. Any other owner can file a claim before the race and lead the beast away after the running. The original owner collects the horse’s share of the purse, if it earned any, but he loses the horse at a fair price.

That is, he loses the horse at a fair price if it is a $5,000 horse. If it were a $10,000 horse, in a race for cheaper ones, the owner would get the purse and collect a large bet at odds of perhaps 1 to 10, but the horse would be bought by another barn at less than its true value.

Ainslie’s Complete Guide to Thoroughbred Racing


Mr Boll Weevil

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. It was stuck there in the gate, so you couldn’t get out. It filled up the whole road between a hill of horse manure against the backside fence, stubbled with pale dirty straw like a penitentiary haircut, and a long red puddle in the red dirt, a puddle that was almost a pond. Right down to the sore horses at each point of the silver star, it resembled some woebegone carnival ride, some skeleton of a two-bit ride dreamed up by a dreamer too tired to dream. There’d been no rain all August and by now the fresh worked horses were half lost in the pink cloud of their own shuffling. Red dust from those West Virginia hills rode in their wide open nostrils and stuck to their squeezebox lungs. Red dust, working its devilment, he observed to himself, but he shut his mouth. They were not his horses.

Medicine Ed led his own horse round the corner of the shedrow. What was the name of this animal? If he had heard it, Medicine Ed didn’t recall. It was a big red three-year-old, dumb as dirt, that Zeno had vanned up for the fourth race, a maiden without a scratch on him. A van ride on race day did for many a horse, but this boy had rolled out the van as calm as that puddle
yonder, for he felt good and didn’t know nothing. True, he had no class. He was the throwaway kind, a heavy-head sprinter who looked like a quarter horse, with a chest like a car radiator. He must not know what was coming, for once he was sore, he might last to age five, with luck.

How long would Medicine Ed last? He had been on the racetrack since he was eight years old. After sixty-four years of this racetrack life he, too, was sore and tired, and like the boll weevil in the song, he was looking for a home. He knew he would always have work, long as he could work. But where was it wrote that he had to rub horses till the day he died? And as for the medicine he could do and which long ago gave him his name, best folks forgot about that, and in these parts so far they had.

Up ahead was Deucey Gifford walking Grizzly, her moneymaker. Grizzly was the opposite end of the Mound, a used-up stakes horse, a miler, nerved in his feet, who knew everything. Medicine Ed liked to devil her: Why you don’t give that old boy his rest? How old Grizzly be by now? Fourteen? fi’teen?

He’s twelve, Deucey said, like she always said, and he don’t need no rest. Grizzly knows what comes next for him in this world, after me, I mean. He likes things the way they are.

BOOK: Lord of Misrule
5.05Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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