Uh-oh, it looks like your Internet Explorer is out of date.

For a better shopping experience, please upgrade now.

Horse Heaven

Horse Heaven

3.9 23
by Jane Smiley

See All Formats & Editions

Spanning two years on the circuit, from Kentucky and California to New York and Paris, Horse Heaven puts us among trainers and track brats, horse-obsessed girls, nervy jockeys, billionaire owners and restless wives. Here is the trainer of dazzling integrity and his opposite: a wicked prince of the tract, headed for still another swindle; here are the


Spanning two years on the circuit, from Kentucky and California to New York and Paris, Horse Heaven puts us among trainers and track brats, horse-obsessed girls, nervy jockeys, billionaire owners and restless wives. Here is the trainer of dazzling integrity and his opposite: a wicked prince of the tract, headed for still another swindle; here are the gamblers and hangers-on. And in an amazing feat of imagination, here are the magnificent Thoroughbreds themselves, from the filly orphaned at birth to the brown horse who always wins by a nose, a lovable "claimer" who passes from owner to owner on a heartwrenching journey down from the winner's circle.

All the constant excitement of racing courses through a novel that opens up a fascinating world even as it moves us with its exploration of wanting, loving, and striving; of our mysterious bond with animals; and, above all, of our profound desire to connect-emotionally, sexually, spiritually-with each other.

Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
To horse racing and baseball fans alike, spring is the season to get reacquainted with their heroes; it is the time to grab a scorecard, place a few bets, and head to the nearest dusty expanse of grass. Most of all, it's the time to dream, because on a baseball diamond or a horse track anything is possible. Judging by her magnificent new novel, Horse Heaven, Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Jane Smiley understands this fact. With utter authority and aplomb, her seventh novel opens up the world of horse racing as never before; it takes us on a circuit from Del Mar to Saratoga and back again, bringing to life the owners, the trainers, and (most humorously) the horses themselves. While Horse Heaven is likely to be the definitive novel about horse racing, it is more than just a well-researched sojourn in this nervy world. It is a meditation on how we gamble at life's racetrack, wagering most cautiously when that bet is for happiness.

To tell this epic tale (it has nearly three dozen characters), Smiley employs an unusual narrative strategy: She sets the dramas of her human characters against the backdrop of those of her horses. We meet and get to know every horse in an intimate way, from Justabob, an imperious stallion with anger management issues, to Epic Steam, an ornery black stud with a heart the size of a Volkswagen. They are affectionate when loved, truculent when provoked, and mournful when they lose a friend on the road to the big leagues. With their steaming, muscled flanks and armies of helpers, these horses know they're important. But all they really want is a scratch behind the ear, plenty of hay, and maybe a nicker and a nuzzle or two. The same could be said for their attendants.

Though they desire the same thing as their thoroughbreds -- to win a little, and to be loved more -- Smiley's human cast are a hapless lot. There's the tycoon Al Maybrick, who has his own anger management issues and a drinking habit he barely keeps in check. Al and his trophy wife, Rosalind, take up horses as a hobby, but soon the horses become a repository for the hopes Al used to have for his marriage. Indeed, Al goes to the track to escape the fact that he and his wife don't relate anymore, while Rosalind goes shopping for expensive tchotchkes. But it's not just the owners who throw their dreams into horses. Married for 25 years to an agoraphobic woman, Al's trainer, Dick Winterson, spends most of his time at the track because he finds his horses' expectations easier to live up to than those of his wife. When he and Rosalind meet up, Winterson realizes that he's been missing something essential in his life away from the stalls.

While Smiley's characters differ in their particular domestic maladies, they are united in their love of horses. But until they encounter each other in the right way, they can't achieve the happiness they continually seek on the track. Smiley does a wonderful job of weaving together these two themes -- horses and happiness -- showing us that, as in horse racing, there is no true secret to happiness. As one avid gambler says, "It's a mystery that can't be plumbed by the form, by the theories, by any known science and it happens every day." But is winning -- or happiness, for that matter -- worth striving for? Tossing in the towel, another of Smiley's characters muses, "Wasn't the lesson of racing that there was no meaning, no pattern, nothing except chaos daily engaged with?" Winning at horses and winning at marriage, one concludes, are patterns of organizing chaos within ourselves.

As in her previous novels A Thousand Acres, Moo, and The All True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, Jane Smiley strikes a sublime balance between levity and gravity in Horse Heaven, making us laugh one moment and ponder where we should place our heaviest wagers during the next. Yes, Jane Smiley is out of the gate once again, leading the field of contemporary novelists with long, effortless strides. And thanks to Horse Heaven, we now know why the grass on a horse track oval appears so hopefully green. (John Freeman)

Sally Eckhoff
The tension and frustration of the racing life can be waring in Horse Heaven, and yet Ms. Smiley dispenses happiness at the novel's conclusion. Her skill at psychological probing is splendid; her images...a colt's nostrils round and open like the blossoms of a fox glove are even better.

Ms. Jane Smiley's chunky book Horse Heaven resembles a bale of hay. Chewable, fragrant and thick, this is the good stuff, the first cutting.
Wall Street Journal

Barnes & Noble Guide to New Fiction
A "wordy," "interesting journey" through the universe of horse racing is revealed in this novel that spans two years on the circuit, from Kentucky to California to New York and Paris. The "wide range of characters" "sucked readers in fast out of the gate." While it "raced to the finish," other reviewers said it was "predictable" and "in the final stretch, a good filly, but not great."
Don McLeese
As chance and destiny head into the homestretch, Smiley's novel offers plenty of surprise for those readers who are attentive enough to keep the various characters distinctly in mind while unraveling a myriad of subplots. By the end, as in a marathon, the suspense over who'll win is secondary to the satisfaction of finishing.
Book: The Magazine for the Reading Life
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
The Chinese calendar aside, 2000 may be the Year of the Horse. Almost neck and neck with Alyson Hagy's Keeneland, this novel about horses and their breeders, owners, trainers, grooms, jockeys, traders, bettors and other turf-obsessed humans is another winner. Smiley, it turns out, knows a prodigious amount about Thoroughbreds, and she is as good at describing the stages of their lives, their temperaments and personalities as she is in chronicling the ambitions, financial windfalls and ruins, love affairs, partings and reconciliations of her large cast of human characters. With settings that range from California and Kentucky to Paris, the novel covers two years in which the players vie with each other to produce a mount that can win high-stakes races. Readers will discover that hundreds of things can go wrong with a horse, from breeding through birth, training and racing, and that every race has variables and hazards that can produce danger and death, as well as the loss of millions of dollars. (A scene in which one horse stumbles and sets off a chain reaction of carnage is heartbreaking.) Characters who plan, scheme, connive and yearn for a winner include several greedy, impetuous millionaires and their wives; one trainer who is a model of rectitude, and another who has found Jesus but is crooked to the core; two preadolescent, horse-obsessed kids; a knockout black woman whose beauty is the entrance key to the racing world; the horses themselves (cleverly, Smiley depicts a horse communicator who can see into the equine mind); and one very sassy Jack Russell dog. Written with high spirits and enthusiasm, distinguished by Smiley's wry humor (as in Moo), the novel gallops into the home stretch without losing momentum. Fans of A Thousand Acres may feel that Smiley has deserted the realm of serious literature for suspense and romance, but this highly readable novel shows that she can perform in both genres with lan. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.|
Library Journal
Smiley, author of nine earlier works of fiction including The Age of Grief and A Thousand Acres (a Pulitzer Prize winner), has written the Gone with the Wind of horse books. Those involved in the equestrian world will experience a thrill of recognition when hearing about the various types of trainers, owners, and, of course, the horses themselves. The trainers include a Zen practitioner who considers each horse a koan to be solved; a crooked trainer who gets religion and repents, however briefly; and a married trainer who falls in love with the wife of an owner. The horses are a rogue stallion, a timid mare, and an amazingly focused gelding named Limitless. The horses and people are both talented and flawed yet all find redemption. Mary Beth Hurt is an exceptional reader. Highly recommended for all public libraries.--Patsy Gray, Huntsville P.L., AL Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.\
Internet Book Watch
This novel of horse racing provides an engrossing set of characters whose lives revolve around the horse track and the underlying politics and personalities which dominate it. Fans of Dick Francis will find this a lively, engrossing account which is packed with realistic action.
—Internet Book Watch
Smiley's wonderful sense about human nature keeps this earthy comic effort on track.
Entertainment Weekly
The New Yorker
By the novel's finish, the world of horses has become at once radiant in its particularities and as familiar as our own.
Bill Barich
What's remarkable about Smiley's handling of horses as characters is that she manages to bring it off at all -- and more, she does it brilliantly . . . It's deeply satisfying to read a work of fiction so informed about its subject and so alive to every nuance and detail . . . Smart, warmhearted, winning.
The New York Times Book Review

Product Details

Random House Publishing Group
Publication date:
Product dimensions:
4.16(w) x 6.89(h) x 1.03(d)

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One


On the second Sunday morning in November, the day after the Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park (which he did not get to this year, because the trek to the West Coast seemed a long one from Westchester County and he didn't have a runner, had never had a runner, how could this possibly be his fault, hadn't he spent millions breeding, training, and running horses? Wasn't it time he had a runner in the Breeders' Cup or got out of the game altogether, one or the other?), Alexander P. Maybrick arose from his marriage bed at 6:00 a.m., put on his robe and slippers, and exited the master suite he shared with his wife, Rosalind. On the way to the kitchen, he passed the library, his office that adjoined the library, the weight room, the guest bathroom, the living room, and the dining room. In every room his wife had laid a Persian carpet of exceptional quality—his wife had an eye for quality in all things—and it seemed like every Persian carpet in every room every morning was adorned with tiny dark, dense turds deposited there by Eileen, the Jack Russell terrier. Eileen herself was nestled up in bed with his wife, apparently sleeping, since she didn't raise even her head when Mr. Maybrick arose, but Mr. Maybrick knew she was faking. No Jack Russell sleeps though movement of any kind except as a ruse.

    Mr. Maybrick had discussed this issue with Rosalind on many levels. It was not as though he didn't know what a Jack Russell was all about when Rosalind brought the dog home. A Jack Russell was about making noise, killing small animals and dragging theircarcasses into the house, attacking much larger dogs, refusing to be house-trained, and in all other ways living a primitive life. Rosalind had promised to start the puppy off properly, with a kennel and a trainer and a strict routine and a book about Jack Russells, and every other thing that worked with golden retrievers and great Danes and mastiffs, and dogs in general. But Eileen wasn't a dog, she was a beast, and the trainer had been able to do only one thing with her, which was stop her from barking. And thank God for that, because if the trainer had not stopped Eileen from barking Mr. Maybrick would have had to strangle her. Rosalind, who sent her underwear to the cleaners and had the windows washed every two weeks and kept the oven spotless enough to sterilize surgical instruments, tried to take the position that the turds were small and harmless, and that the carpets could handle them, but really she just thought the dog was cute, even after Eileen learned to jump from the floor to the kitchen counters, and then walked around on them with her primevally dirty feet, click click click, right in front of Mr. Maybrick, even after Eileen began to sleep under the covers, pushing her wiry, unsoft coat right into Mr. Maybrick's nose in the middle of the night. "Do you know where this dog has been?" Mr. Maybrick would say to Rosalind, and Rosalind would reply, "I don't want to think about that."

    Mr. Maybrick was a wealthy and powerful man, and in the end, that was what stopped him. He knew that, in the larger scheme of things, he had been so successful, and, in many ways, so unpleasant about it all (he was a screamer and a bully, tough on everyone), that Eileen had come into his life as a corrective. She weighed one-twentieth of what he did. He could crush her between his two fists. He could also get rid of her, either by yelling at his wife or by sending her off to the SPCA on his own, but he dared not. There was some abyss of megalomania that Eileen guarded the edge of for Mr. Maybrick, and in the mornings, when he walked to the kitchen to get his coffee, he tried to remember that.

    The first thing Mr. Maybrick did after he poured his coffee was to call his horse-trainer. When the trainer answered with his usual "Hey, there!," Mr. Maybrick said, "Dick!," and then Dick said, "Oh. Al." He always said it just like that, as if he were expecting something good to happen, and Mr. Maybrick had happened instead. Mr. Maybrick ignored this and sipped his coffee while Dick punched up his response. "Can I do something for you, Al?"

    "Yeah. You can put that Laurita filly in the allowance race on Thursday."

    "You've got a condition book, then."

    "Oh, sure. I want to know what races are being run. You trainers keep everything so dark—"

    "Well, sure. Al, listen—"

    "Dick, Frank Henderson thinks it's the perfect race for her. A little step up in class, but not too much competi—"

    "I'll see."

    "I want to do it. Henderson said—"

    "Mr. Henderson—"

    "Frank Henderson knows horses and racing, right? His filly won the Kentucky Oaks last year, right? He would have had that other horse in the sprint yesterday if it hadn't broken down. Listen to me, Dick. I shouldn't have to beg you." This was more or less a threat, and as he said it, not having actually intended to, Mr. Maybrick reflected upon how true it was. He was the owner. Dick Winterson was the trainer. The relationship was a simple one. Henderson was always telling him not to be intimidated by trainers.

    "We'll see."

    "You always say that. Look, I don't want to watch the Breeders' Cup on TV again next year. Henderson thinks this filly's got class."

    "She does, but I want to go slow with her. We have to see how the filly—"

    Mr. Maybrick hung up. He didn't slam down the phone—he no longer did that—he simply hung up. If Dick had known him as long as Mr. Maybrick had known himself, he would haw: realized what a good thing it was, simply hanging up. And here was another thing he could use with his wife. He could say that if he didn't have to pass all those turds in the morning he could start off calmer and his capacity for accepting frustration would last a little longer. It was scientific. When they didn't have the dog, he had gotten practically to the fourth phone call without offending anyone. Now he got maybe to the second. He took another sip of his coffee, and called his broker, then his partner, then his general manager, then his other partner, then his secretary, then his broker again, then his AA sponsor (who was still in bed). This guy's name was Harold W., and he was a proctologist as well as an alcoholic. Mr. Maybrick had chosen him because he was a man of infinite patience and because he knew everything there was to know about prostate glands.

    "I want a drink," said Mr. Maybrick. "There's turds all over the house. I bet you can understand that one."

    "Good morning, Al. What's really up? You haven't had a drink in two years."

    "But I'm always on the verge. It's a real struggle with me."

    "Say your serenity prayer."



    They said the serenity prayer together.

    "Look," said Al, "I got this pain in my groin—"

    "No freebies. That's the rule. My partner will be happy to—"

    "It's like water trickling out of a hose. I can't—"

    "You need to be working on your fourth step."

    "What's that one again?"

    "Taking a fearless inventory of your character defects."

    "Oh, yeah."

    "Trying to get something for nothing is one of your character defects."

    "I never pay retail."

    "Then you need to work on your third step, Al."

    "What's that one?"

    "Turning your life over to your higher power."

    Mr. Maybrick cleared his throat, as he always did when someone said those higher-power words. Those words always made an image of Ralph Peters come into his head, the guy who used to be head of the Mercantile Exchange in Chicago, and who foiled the Hunt brothers when they tried to corner the silver market back in '80. Peters was an Austrian guy. He had "higher power" written all over him, and he was the last guy Mr. Maybrick had ever feared. He would never turn his life over to Peters.

    Harold went on, "Let's think a little more about the last day. What about rage? Have you been raging?"

    "Well, sure. A guy in my posi—"

    "Should be filled with gratitude. Your position is a gratitude position. Thank you, God, for every frustration, every bad deal, every monetary loss, every balk and obstacle and resistance."

    Harold often teased him in this way. Mr. Maybrick felt better for it, because it made him think Harold W. liked him after all, and it reminded him, too, of when his old man had been in a good mood. Joshing him.

     "Every non-cooperator, every son of a bitch, every idiot who gets in my way, every slow driver, every—"


    "I've got to go to work."

    "But I—There's wine in the liquor cabinet."

    "Throw it out. I've got to go to work. The assholes are accumulating."

    Mr. Maybrick laughed. Harold W. laughed, too. Harold W. wasn't a saint, by any means. He had been in AA for thirty-two years, at a meeting almost every day. Mr. Maybrick didn't know whether to respect that or have contempt for it, but he knew for a fact that Harold W. was a force to be reckoned with, and he thanked him politely, ragelessly, and hung up the phone.

    Now Eileen trotted into the room. It was clear to Mr. Maybrick that the dog was intentionally ignoring him. She clicked over to her bowl and checked it, took a drink from the water dish, circumnavigated the cooking island, and then, casually, leapt onto the granite counter and trotted toward the sink. "Get down, Eileen," said Mr. Maybrick. It was as if he hadn't spoken. Eileen cocked her little tan head and peered into the garbage disposal, noting that the stopper was in place. Her little stump of a tail flicked a couple of times, and she seemed to squat down. She stretched her paw toward the stopper, but her legs were too short; she couldn't reach it. She surveyed the situation for a moment, then went behind the sink, picked up a pinecone that had been hidden there, and jumped down. Only now did she look at Mr. Maybrick. She dropped the pinecone at his slippered feet and backed up three steps, her snapping black gaze boring into his. "I don't want to do that, Eileen," he said. Her strategy was to take little steps backward and forward and then spin in a tight circle, gesturing at the pinecone with her nose. But she never made a sound.

    "You're not a retriever, Eileen, you're a terrier. Go outside and kill something."

    Indeed, Eileen was a terrier, and with terrier determination, she resolved that Mr. Maybrick would ultimately throw the pinecone. She continued dancing, every few seconds picking up the pinecone and dropping it again. She was getting cuter and cuter. That was her weapon. Mr. Maybrick considered her a very manipulative animal. He looked away from her and took another sip of his (third) cup of coffee. Now she barked once, and when he looked at her, she went up on her hind legs. She had thighs like a wrestler—she seemed to float. Mr. Maybrick had often thought that a horse as athletic as this worthless dog would get into the Kentucky Derby, then the Breeders' Cup, win him ten million dollars on the track, and earn him five million a year in the breeding shed for, say, twenty years. That was $110 million; it had happened to others. He had been racing and breeding horses for eleven years, and it had never happened to him. This was just the sort of thing that made you a little resentful, and rightfully so, whatever Harold W. had to say about gratitude. He closed his eyes when he felt himself sliding: that way, beginning to count up the millions he had spent running horses and thinking about deserving. With his eyes closed, Al could hear her drop the pinecone rhythmically on the tile, chock chock chock chock, the bass, her little toenails clicking a tune around it. Didn't he deserve a really big horse? Didn't he? And then, while his eyes were still closed, dog and pinecone arrived suddenly in his lap, a hard, dense little weight but live, electric. With the shock, he nearly dropped his coffee cup, and as it was, spilled on the counter. "God damn it!" he shouted. Eileen jumped down and trotted away. "Hey! Come here, Eileen," he said. "Eileen!" Eileen sheared off into the living room, and he realized that he had forgotten to let her out. Mr. Maybrick put his arms up on the table and laid his head upon them.

Chapter Two


Though it wasn't customary for Farley Jones to find himself out with the first set of horses at 5:00 a.m. or so, he didn't mind it today, for he hadn't been sleeping well lately, and it was better to be up and about than lying in bed wondering what was going on with everyone who was up and about. Oliver, his assistant trainer, was home with the flu. They were working under lights, and the horses, the best group in Farley's barn, were all galloping today rather than working. And he was alone in the grandstand at Santa Anita, and it was pleasantly quiet now that the hurly-burly of the Breeders' Cup was over. The weather was good, too, for all the talk about the imminent arrival of El Niño.

    It wasn't until his horses were finished and trotting out, a good twenty minutes of blessed solitude, that anyone joined him, and that was Buddy Crawford, another trainer, with his assistant. They came abreast, like a sandstorm, bringing turbulence in with them, and Farley felt his body gear up to charge for the exit, then felt his mind resist that impulse. On the one hand, he wasn't done looking at his horses, and on the other, there was something he had to say to Buddy Crawford that he hadn't been looking forward to saying. He had sworn he wouldn't seek an opportunity to say it or say it in front of any other trainers, and that condition now applied, and he was stuck. He put his hand on the railing to hold himself in Buddy's presence. And then the horse he had been intending to discuss with Buddy trotted by below, grinding his bit and pulling, his ears pinned and his back end bouncing. When he got a hundred yards away, he reared up, but the exercise boy was ready for him and kicked him forward. Buddy leaned out and shouted, "Work five is all!" Then he turned to his assistant, handed him a slip of paper, and said, "Take this to the clockers' shed." The kid walked away. Farley's sense of turbulence increased rather than diminished. "Hey. Buddy," he said.

    "Hey, Farley. How's it going, old man?"

    "Not bad."

    "I hate working in the fucking dark. My old man worked the night shift, did you know that? He hated working in the dark, too, and sleeping in the day. But what the fuck, I don't sleep a wink anyway."

    "I haven't been sleeping very well lately, either."

    "This is a fucking lifelong thing with me. To tell you the truth, I don't know if I can't sleep because I worry all the time, or if I worry all the time because I can't sleep. I can't stand to be in the fucking bedroom, with the windows shut and with the carpeting and all. The cars going by on the street make me think of horses galloping, and then I got to get up and see what they're doing. It's a fucking mess."

    "You know, I knew a guy who went to a sleep-disorder—"

    "It's not a fucking sleep disorder. It's a horse disorder. It's a too-many-horses-in-the-barn disorder!" He laughed, but not mirthfully. Then he leaned over the railing and shouted to the riders of two horses who were trotting along together, "You two need to break from the gate. Don't let your filly pass the other one, Gaspar." Then, to Farley, "Fucking Gaspar. He rides like a fucking girl. If he lets that filly take hold and pass the other one, he'll have a runaway on his hands. Teach him a fucking lesson."

    Now Buddy, who was wiry and little, was pacing, and Farley was glancing down the track, hoping and not hoping someone else would come along. He saw the last of his set exit the track down where the path came in.

    Farley could see the horse in question heading toward them. He was a big bay horse with a distinctive white stripe on his face that ran between his eyes for a few inches, then veered off to the right and ended at the horse's nostril. He said, "How you doing with that colt?"

    Buddy glanced at the animal.

    "He's training pretty good. Inconsistent. He's got some speed. Dam's a Rahy mare. She had some speed, too."

    "Wedding Ring."

    "That's the one."

    "She was steady as they come."

    "Yeah, steady hot, Henry says. He had her in his barn before she went back to New York. This one, though, he's up he's down. But he's got to learn ibis job and bull through it. That's the name of the game. Hasn't raced in three weeks. Vacation's over."

    Once Farley had watched his former wife suggest to her sister that she wasn't giving her one-year-old daughter enough attention. The sister had been looking out the window, and, hearing this rather mildly stated reproach, had turned her head to look at Marlise, whose own two-year-old (with Farley) was babbling at her feet. What really happened was that the sister's head swung around in surprise with a definite wrecking-ball look to it, and after screaming at one another for ten minutes, causing both the children to cry, and startling both the husbands out of two years of prospective longevity, the sisters didn't speak until their children were six and five. And they lived in the same town, and saw each other at nearly every family dinner. It was with this in mind that Farley never offered any suggestions to other trainers about their horses. But now he said, "Buddy, you should have that horse's stifles X-rayed. I had a filly who moved like that in the hind end, and she—"

    "He moves fine. He had an abscess. That's why he's been off. But the gravel erupted two weeks ago."

    "Maybe, but—"

    "Watch this work."

    The horse shot past them. You could see the exercise boy gritting his teeth, the horse was pulling so hard. Buddy said, "That horse loves to run, and I'm not going to stand in his way. In fact, I'm going to provide him with an opportunity to do what he loves to do."

    "Buddy—" But in the end, he couldn't bring himself to say what he was thinking, which was that the horse was going to break down.

    "You know what?"


    "These horses are here to race and win. Their owners pay me seventy bucks a day and all they fucking care about is racing and winning. But that's not even it. The owners don't: care as much about racing and winning as I do. If the fucking horse falls over two steps after the finish line, he's done his job that he was born into this world to do."

    "I don't think—"

    "What? A Thoroughbred is not a natural phenomenon. His mommy and daddy didn't fall in love, get married, and decide to have a baby. None of these horses would be here if they weren't meant to race and win. The breeder is their God and the racetrack is their destiny and running is their work, and any other way of looking at it is getting things mixed up, if you ask me. The last thing I want to do is get things mixed up, because, as fucked as I am now, I'd be really fucked then, because I wouldn't know what I was doing."


    "Farley, we've been training together around this track for twenty-five years or so, right?"


    "Well, here's what I've noticed about you. You're smart. They all say that about you, Farley's smart. Sometimes he's too smart, but he's always smart. I ain't smart, if you'll pardon my English. If I'm going to get winners, it isn't going to be by being smart, it's going to be by sticking to what I know. That's how smart I am, exactly. I'm smart enough to know how to get by without being smart."

    "Anyone can learn—"

    "Can they? You had that colt Rough Strife, remember him? You had him around here for a year and a half. He was dumb as a post, wasn't he? He's a legend. He fell down at the quarter pole in his first race, and every start after that, he shied at the quarter pole. He couldn't learn not to. Lots of them can, but he couldn't."

    "Just get his stifles—"

    "I don't want to know about it. He's ready to run. As long as he tells me he wants to run, I'm going to run him." Buddy leaned out the window and shouted, "Gaspar, you were okay this time, so I'm going to put you on another crazy one. I think you're learning something!" And he turned and marched out of the grandstand. In the ensuing lull, Farley realized that his own second set were discreetly milling about, awaiting instructions. He sighed.

By Wednesday, Farley was back to normal, sleepwise, and Oliver was back to normal, flu-wise, so Farley didn't get to the grandstand until dawn was breaking over Pasadena. There were two or three trainers standing about, and Farley joined in the joking. Henry, who was over seventy but under eighty-five, said, "You know, there were these two veterinary surgeons who shall remain nameless, but you know them, golfing up there at Pebble Beach, before the Japs bought the place. They were on the third hole, there, in the woods, and the guy from around here says to the guy from Kentucky, `See that tree down there with that knothole about four feet from the ground?'

    "`Yeah,' says the other one.

    "`This is the kind of surgeon I am. There's an owl in that tree, and I'm going to take these surgical instruments I got in my golf bag, and I'm going to remove that owl's tonsils without waking him up.'

    "`Nah,' says the other surgeon.

    "But the guy goes down there, leans into the knothole, and comes back ten minutes later. He's got these two tiny little pink things in his hand, and sure enough, they look like tonsils.

    "So they each take another shot, and the surgeon from Kentucky says, `Gimme those instruments. I'm such a good surgeon that I'm gonna go down there and remove that owl's balls without him waking up.' So he heads down to the tree, leans in, comes back ten minutes later. He's got two tiny red things in his hand, and he says, `Sleeping like a baby.' So the California guy says, `You win,' and they finish their round.

    "Well, around dusk the owl wakes up, and he goes out flying around for a while, and he comes over to a friend's tree, and lands, and they're sitting there talking, and he says, `You know, there's something funny going on over there on the third hole. Stay away from there is my advice. I woke up tonight, and I can't hoot worth a fuck or fuck worth a hoot.'"

    Everyone laughed and, after a while, headed back to the barns, except Farley and Henry. Henry looked up at Farley. He said, "So—Buddy Crawford says you broke that horse of his down."

    "I did hear that colt of his broke down Saturday, but all I did was—"

    "Shouldn'ta done even that."

    "Even what?"

    "Even make a suggestion, or a comment, or whatever."

    "The horse was moving just like a filly I had. I knew for sure—"

    "Shoulda kept your mouth shut. Buddy says you jinxed it for him."

    "Henry, that's ridi—"

    "You may think so, Farley, and I may think so. I may. I'm not saying I do. But this is a racetrack, Farley. Jinxes, curses, luck, superstitions, evil eyes—this is where they live."

    "Breakdowns have causes, like stress fractures and toegrabs and bad conditioning."

    "They do. But you tangled yourself in this one."

    "I was right, is all."

    "That's an even worse mistake, to be right about another man's horse." Henry shook his head, then he said, "I know something's up with you, boy. You haven't had such a good year this year. Those come and go."

    "I know that. That's not—"

    "Listen to me, I'll tell you something. I've worked all over California, here and up north and at the fairs. You know I saw Phar Lap? Down at Agua Caliente. Right there is what I'm getting at. The things I've seen men do to horses made me believe in sin, original and every other kind. And when I die, and that isn't so far away now, I expect to be punished for the sins I looked upon but didn't stop. But what I'm telling you is, that's the wages of a life at the track. You don't say everything you know."

    Farley knew that this was true. Henry shook his head, then turned and walked away.

Chapter Three


The reason Tiffany Morse left her purse on the bench in front of the clothes dryer in the Spankee Yankee Laundromat in Lowell, Massachusetts, was that she had to run out the door into the dank November cold to catch her niece Iona, and in the panic of that, she forgot where her purse was. Then she had to make Iona look at her and understand that she was not to ever ever ever go outside without Tiffany ever again, but of course, Iona was too young to understand that—she was only three. Fast, though. Anyway, when she came back to dryer number four ("John Adams"—all the dryers were named after famous Massachusetts politicians, right down to "Michael Dukakis," number sixteen), her purse was open and her money was gone. The Laundromat was empty, too. The worst thing was that she hadn't fed any quarters into the dryer yet, and her wet clothes were sitting inside in a lump with the door open. It actually would have been easier if the thief had stolen the clothes as well as the money, since now she had to cart all those wet things back to her apartment and try to corral Iona, too, but he hadn't. Tiffany could not say that she was having a good day. She certainly could not say that.

    But Tiffany didn't really require good days anymore. She was always willing to settle for a good morning, or even a good hour. And she and Iona had had a good hour just that evening, before coming out to the Laundromat. What happened was, Tiffany picked Iona up at her mother's on her way home from work because she had agreed to take Iona for the night while her mother went to choir practice and then out with some of the other choir members, and her mother had been making pork stew, and when she got there, tired and hungry, her mother had been in a good mood, and had sat her down at the table and given her a big plateful. Iona had been a good girl, so there had been no ill-tempered references to Iona's father, Tiffany's brother, Roland, who was up to no good in Ohio somewhere, or maybe Texas. The stew had lots of potatoes and carrots in it, and nice chunks of pork. In the larger war that was Tiffany's relationship with her mother, they had made a truce. The next thing that happened was that, when Tiffany got home, she saw that the Christmas cactus in her window was starting to bloom. Between them, the stew and the flowers made her feel good enough to endure the Spankee Yankee, but now, in retrospect, she saw that they had been bad, or at least false omens, because if she hadn't had that good hour she would have stayed home watching TV, and would not have lost her money and had to hang all her wet clothes around the apartment. By the time she did that, and got Iona to bed on the couch (never an easy task), she was exhausted and even more blue than she'd been when she first discovered the money missing.

    It was more than the money, it was what the theft meant—that you couldn't afford to be happy, because being happy made you do things that then ended in greater unhappiness than you had been feeling before you got happy. Everyone knew that that's the way it was with love and sex and men—the happier you were when you fell in love, the more crushed you would be when it didn't work out—but what was even more depressing was that that was the way it was with simple things like pork stew and flowers. The whole depressing idea made your life pretty impossible, especially since all the time you were telling your mom that (1) things were fine and (2) everything was going to be all right. Tiffany had always told herself and her mother that she wasn't going to end up where her mother had—always saying things like "Don't count on that," and "There's many a slip 'tween the cup and the lip" (an assertion that everyday experience showed to be patently untrue) and "If wishes were horses," a phrase of her mother's that made no sense at all.

    Another thing her mom always said was "Good-looking ain't necessarily good-acting." She usually said this in reference to guys Tiffany had turned up here and there, and in reference to Iona's father and Tiffany's brother, Roland. But often Tiffany expected that she was saying it in reference to her, because everyone said, and Tiffany herself knew, that she was a knockout, a fox, a babe, you name it. She was so used to being a drop-dead gorgeous black woman no matter what she wore or how she did her makeup that she didn't even care anymore. Where had it gotten her, now that she was twenty-one with very little to show for it? Iona was drop-dead gorgeous, too, the way tiny things are especially gorgeous because you can't believe they are so small and perfect, but Tiffany never complimented her. Drop-dead gorgeous was just a thing, like sleet or snow or flowers, that happened. And you had to be drop-dead gorgeous to know what a trivial thing it was. Tiffany often wondered what she would exchange her looks for, if she could. Something more interesting to do than working as a checker at Wal-Mart would be one thing, but the fact was, she couldn't think of what that interesting thing to do would be. That was her problem, she thought. She knew perfectly well what others wanted her to do and what she didn't want to do, but when she tried to pull up from her depths something she herself wanted to do, the bucket came up empty. Once in a while she did some research. There were programs on TV that showed you what other people did. They worked in offices or police stations or bars. Lots of them worked in show business. But none of them really did anything except sit around and make jokes, which was what Tiffany herself did all day at Wal-Mart, and so all of them looked as idle as she felt herself to be. Or she bought a magazine, but all the women's magazines made it seem as though everyone was either working full-time on her appearance, which Tiffany could afford to disdain, or else making different recipes all day, which seemed nearly as boring. There was a channel on the TV called the Discovery Channel, which Tiffany sometimes monitored, but those shows didn't focus on what the people did, only on the results of what they did. She didn't ever see how they had made the move from, say, Lowell, Massachusetts, to the plains of the Serengeti. If those people were calling out to her, then they were calling across an abyss of space that she didn't see how anyone could cross. Especially now that she had no money at all, not even bus fare to get to work tomorrow. She turned off the TV and went into the living room to check on Iona. Here Iona was, already three, already having her own ideas about stuff she wanted to do that weren't the same as your ideas about stuff Iona was supposed to do. That sort of thing made you think about how fast time went. But, then, here she was, here her mother was, doing the same things year after year, having the same arguments, not getting anywhere. That sort of thing made you think just the opposite, that time went all too slowly. She covered Iona and picked up the girl's shoes, which she set on the corner of the table so she could find them easily in the morning.

    After she had gotten into bed and turned out the light, she thought that all she had was the same prayer she had uttered before. She lay on her back and looked at the ceiling. She whispered, "Please make something happen here." Tiffany sighed. This was a prayer that always worked. Unfortunately, it didn't always work as she hoped. For example, she had prayed for a job, and gotten hired at Wal-Mart. She had prayed for a boyfriend, and attracted the deathless interest of Lindsay Wicks, her dampest, palest co-worker. She had prayed for a couch, and her mother had decided to buy a new one, passing the seventeen-year-old brown thing on to Tiffany, who was required to appear grateful. She continued, "This time, I mean it."

Meet the Author

Jane Smiley is the author of nine previous works of fiction, including The Age of Grief, The Greenlanders, Ordinary Love & Good Will, A Thousand Acres (for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize), and Moo. She lives in northern California.

Brief Biography

Northern California
Date of Birth:
September 26, 1949
Place of Birth:
Los Angeles, California
B.A. in English, Vassar College, 1971; M.A., Iowa University, 1975; M.F.A, 1976; Ph.D., 1978

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Post to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews

Horse Heaven 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Bogie02 More than 1 year ago
This would be a great summer read! The author's writing style is very easy to read and by the end of the book, you feel as if the characters and the horses are real people. I've read this book once while my mother-in-law has read it twice and enjoyed it just as much the second time as the first time. This title was given to me as a gift and I would recommended it as a gift for anyone that loves horses or just a good story to get lost in during precious moments of peace and quiet.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books I've read in a long time. Smiley does a remarkable job of bringing to life all of the characters, the horses, the people, and a dog, while maintaining a dry wit. This is a must-read. I highly recommend it!
Addage More than 1 year ago
Requires some patience. Lots of characters including her animals. Austenesque in that manners are an insight to the soul. In theory this novel is about horse racing. Certainly it gives a picture of both the greatness and the cruelty of the sport. Like all comic novels, she pulls her punches at the end. What stands out is her characters--human and animal. Keeping everything straight is a little tricky, but as we work through the vignettes that make up the novel, there are many moments that brings smiles and laughs. She has a very deft touch. Jane Smiley can be pretty unrelenting in her novels. This one, though, has a pretty soft feel that makes you appreciate her insights all the more. Worthy of a second reading.
GypsyAB More than 1 year ago
took me awhile to get into but once youvision the characters the stories come together. couldnt put it down!
Guest More than 1 year ago
In a lighthearted departure from her remarkable 'A Thousand Acres,' Smiley gives us a joyful story of horses and horsepeople. Her book will be a sure hit with anyone who knows horses well enough to appreciate their unique individual personalities. Her humans are like our own friends and neighbors -- flawed, complex, but generally good -- and, like the horses they own, they are the products of their environment and their handling. This is an appealing, readable, and simply fun book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I have relatively little knowledge of racing but do love horses. This book is delicious. Not a fast read, but what a fascinating one. Not quite at the halfway point, I know it will maintain this high degree of interest and the unexpected. My friend who also loves horses and IS knowledgeable about racing is going to love this book. Can't believe this enthralling novel is in the 'bargain' book category!
Guest More than 1 year ago
I only picked this book up because Jane Smiley wrote it. I have no interest in-- and admit to some antipathy for-- the 'horsey set.' However, I found HORSE HEAVEN totally compelling. I learned more than I ever thought I'd want to know about horses, racing, and all the people involved. Smiley is a master at conveying the smallest nuance and getting inside the heads of her characters-- including the horses. I just couldn't put this book down.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Jane Smiley does an excellent job of getting into the thought processes of a select group of horses and the people who surround them. She visits the lives of an aristocratic couple whose marriage is almost on the rocks, a single black woman who worked at Wal-Mart until a famous rapper walks into her life, a middle-aged horse farm owner with a sharp wit and an even sharper tongue, and a host of other people. Try it! You'll like it.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Richly woven story, great characters.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Rarely do i read a book twice, but for this i am making an exception. Smart, hilarious, engrossing.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Guest More than 1 year ago
Having grown up around Santa Anita racetrack and spent some time on several lush thoroughbred breeding farms in California, I was somewhat disappointed with this book. I think this book could have been better. I think the ideas were on the right track, however there were too many loose ends and not enough detail to create a masterpiece. With so much going on and so many characters, Smiley may have took on to big of a challenge to effectively capture the true essence of her characters. I admit I had a hard time putting this book down, but mainly because I kept hoping for more and never got it. Much of what I read I already knew and I wanted Smiley to delve deeper. I was also disappointed that Smiley had to include several racy sex scenes. -must a good author resort to this to assure successful book sales or catch the eye of a Hollywood movie maker?? I think her approach to these scenes could have been more tasteful. I imagine for a horse enthuasist this is a great beginners guide. Overall, it was a good book, but not exceptional. I did enjoy the horses and how she protrayed their individual personalities and drive. -a must for any horse racing story.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was very impressed with this novel, the first I have read by Ms. Smiley. She weaves together multiple characters, both human and equine, and follows their up's and down's through about 600 pages. The storytelling is full and complete and the conclusions are very satisfying. Readers who have an interest in horse racing, and/or are willing to immerse themselves in that world, will especially enjoy this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This story is filled with details and characters that are without any real connection or importance. I have read books with as many characters (check out The Milagro BeanField Wars by John Nichols)and enjoyed them. What is missing here is any development of many of them which makes it an annoyance rather than a pleasure to run into them again. I loved A Thousand Acres by Jane Smiley. I disliked Moo for the same reason I disliked this book. This is it for me with this author.
Guest More than 1 year ago
should you consider this book. There are too many characters, too few in-depth characterizations. You need a score-card to keep track of who is who. While Smiley is trying to impress her readers with her vast knowledges of horses...and there are many interesting facts...there is no real compelling plot. The book is more like a series of short stories strung together. By the end of the book, which ties up each and every storyline with a pretty bow, you're left feeling, 'so what' .
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had never been a great fan of horse stories, but this one really got me. The author writes in loving detail about the world of horse racing, and draws the reader into the lives of all her characters, both human and equine. I actually cared more about the horses than the humans in the story, who were not as 'approachable' as the animals they loved, exploited, and in many cases treated as nothing more than commodities. Hands down, the mighty and lovable thoroughbred Justa Bob was my favorite - you will keep turning the pages of this rather wordy book just to learn what his final fate is.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've read dozens of horse books...from Black Beauty, to The Black Stallion, to Dick Francis and Willie Shoemaker mysteries, to the Thoroughbred books, and I can safely say that this is by far the best horse book I've ever read. By the end of the book, you really love the horses and care about what happens to them...Justa Bob...Limitless...Residual...Epic Steam...Mr. T...Froney's Sis...all of them