four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
53-July-Aug-2011
By: 
Jaimy Gordon
user_rating: 
0

missing imageJaimy Gordon teaches in the MFA program at Western Michigan University. Her other books include Bogeywoman (1999), Shamp of the City-Solo (1979), and She Drove Without Stopping (1990).

The Story: For every Seabiscuit or Secretariat, horses that come from nowhere to win national glory, there are other horses that seem to like nowhere just fine. These animals inhabit rundown tracks like Indian Mound Downs, the setting of Lord of Misrule, where they race for small stakes and generally cause trouble for their already-troubled owners and jockeys. Structuring her novel around four races at Indian Mound Downs, Gordon explores the lives of various characters who are connected by the track.
McPherson. 296 pages. $25. ISBN: 9780929701837

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"The reader cares because the characters care, and while some downfalls are deserved, you can't help but wish that, just once, some of the characters could catch a break. ... That it is the best novel of the year, as implied by the National Book Award, is arguable. That it is worth the investment of time to discover what for most will be a heretofore unimagined world, is not." Robin Vidimos

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"This rich, soupy (as in primal soup, many ingredients) milieu that Gordon creates--all the names and hints of back story glimmering in the dust--serve to make a character shine, really shine, when he or she rises up and out. ... It's astonishing how quickly, with all this description, Gordon can get to a philosophical point or make a character unforgettable." Susan Salter Reynolds

Milwaukee Jrnl Sentinel 4 of 5 Stars
"Jaimy Gordon's Lord of Misrule may be the first National Book Award–winning novel that cries out for a Tom Waits soundtrack. ... Both richly literary and red-blooded in its depictions of the sporting life, Lord of Misrule gives readers several compelling races, including a completely unexpected but fitting finale." Jim Higgins

New York Times 4 of 5 Stars
"This novel is so assured, exotic and uncategorizable, with such an unlikely provenance, that it arrives as an incontrovertible winner, a bona fide bolt from the blue." Janet Maslin

Washington Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Lord of Misrule is such a beautifully written novel that I wish I could say that every element works to perfection; I can't. But for that sense of being steeped in a specific and alien world, it is remarkable." Jane Smiley

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 of 5 Stars
"Lord of Misrule is not the best novel of the year. It is surely the oddest of the best-publicized and honored books, however. Ms. Gordon knows her tightly contained world well. ... But, she's too much in love with her own words and too convinced of the romance of her race track milieu to sell it hard enough to readers." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

A majority of critics were intrigued by the setting Gordon chose for her novel and her firsthand knowledge of the world of small-time racing. Most also enjoyed her quirky style, which includes a patois of neologisms and a wandering narrative perspective. But that Lord of Misrule won the National Book Award caused many reviewers to frame their opinions in this context; several said that while Gordon's novel is a good book that will interest many people, they did not feel it was the strongest title of the year. Read it because it's very good, not because it's the best.