…Gordon has completely mastered the language of the racetrack, and formed it into an evocative and idiosyncratic style. Lord of Misrule…abounds with observations and aphorisms about horses, money and luck. It's replete with the rhythm and wisdom of this way of looking at life, but Gordon has thought so thoroughly about her characters that each voice dips into racetrack lingo in a distinctive way. It is an impressive performance…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.
The Washington Post
Perhaps Lord of Misrule would not be so startling if Ms. Gordon's other books had been more widely read. But 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…Ms. Gordon is magically adept at fusing the banal and the mythic…She's also keenly attuned to all the aspects of carnality and power that infuse this story, from the way horses feel in human hands to the way Tommy uses his physical magnetism both to dominate Maggie and to use her as a tease for others.
The New York Times
National Book Award-finalist Gordon's new novel begins and ends at a backwoods race track in early-1970s West Virginia, where horse trainer Tommy Hansel dreams up a scam. He'll run four horses in claiming races at long odds and get out before anyone realizes how good his horses are. But at a track as small as Indian Mound Downs, where everyone knows everybody's business, Hansel's hopes are quickly dashed. Soon his luminous, tragic girlfriend, Maggie, appears, drawing the eye of everyone, including sadistic gangster Joe Dale Bigg. Though Maggie finds herself with an unexpected protector in family gangster Two-Tie, even he can't protect her from her own fascination with the track and its misfit members. While Gordon's latest reaches for Great American Novel status, and her use of the colloquial voice perfectly evokes the time and place, constant shifts in perspective make the novel feel over-styled and under-plotted. And Maggie's supposed charisma clashes with her behavior, leaving the feeling that something's missing whereas Hansel is more witnessed than examined, his character developing almost entirely through the eyes of others, creating uncertainty that often borders on indifference. (Nov.)
“Assured, exotic and uncategorizable… an incontrovertible winner, a bona fide bolt from the blue.”—The New York Times
“A beautifully written novel…. Gordon has completely mastered the language of the racetrack.”—Jane Smiley, The Washington Post
“Lord of Misrule is filled with memorable characters who exist on the fringe, making up a whole world …. Gordon’s language is so textured that her pages seem three-dimensional.” Los Angeles Times
“I was mesmerized. . . . Lord of Misrule beautifully captures language of the racetrack”—Andrew Beyer, The Daily Racing Form
“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.”—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.”—Time
“[A] magical tale about a dusty West Virginia town and its downtrodden racetrack.”—NPR
“Unlike any novel you'll read this year—and maybe next.”—Philadelphia Inquirer
“A tour de force of energy and esprit.”—Kirkus, starred review
“Moving and lyrical . . . [A] nearly word perfect novel”—Booklist
“Gordon’s writing will grab and pull you in.”—Bloomberg News
A novel of luck, pluck, farce and above all horse racing—not at tony and elegant sites like Churchill Downs and Ascot but rather at a rinky-dink racetrack in Indian Mound Downs, W.Va.
Gordon (Bogeywoman, 1999, etc.) clearly loves the subculture of grifters and ne'er-do-wells whose lives center on a venue that obviously has never and will never bring them success. Her lowlifes have names like Two-Tie, Medicine Ed, Kidstuff and Deucey, and they're capable of speaking a kind of racetrack patois occasionally reminiscent of Damon Runyon characters: "So I want you should write me a race, well, not me personally, fellow from Nebraska, kid I used to know back when—actually I used to know his mother...She was very good to me. Alas, I fear I did not return the favor like I should have." At the center of the novel is Tommy Hansel, a horse trainer with a get-rich-quick scheme that he feels cannot fail. He plans to enter "sure-fire" winners in claiming races, benefit from the long odds, then get out of town quickly. Nothing, of course, goes according to plan, especially since everyone seems on to his scheme, and the horses aren't as cooperative as Tommy would like them to be. Complicating the issue is the quirky, intelligent Maggie Koderer, new to the horse-race business but nonetheless Tommy's love. Maggie is college-educated but is drawn to the seamy underbelly of the track and the broken-down beauty of the horses. Gordon structures the narrative around the four horses, the last best hope being Lord of Misrule, and she seamlessly moves the reader from one narrative consciousness to another without being manipulative or intrusive. The writing about the races themselves is a tour de force of energy and esprit. By the end of the novel none of the characters quite have what they want, but most of them get what they deserve.
Exceptional writing and idiosyncratic characters make this an engaging read.