Book Report: Hang on for a great ride

Geraldine Brooks is a favorite author of mine. Her meticulous research and skill as a writer always immerse me, invest me in the story. HORSE is no exception.

Its ambition—a woven tale spanning over 150 years and diverse points of view is beautifully rendered. Three fictional characters tie the true story of Lexington, a very famous, very real racehorse together across time.

  • Jarrett: An enslaved boy working with thoroughbred horses in antebellum Kentucky who secretly learns to read.
  • Thomas J. Scott: The horse portraitist who painted Lexington.
  • Theo: A black Ph.D. student whose focus is the depiction of enslaved persons in portraits of thoroughbreds.  
  • Jess: An Aussie ex-pat working with a forgotten horse skeleton at the Smithsonian.
  • Martha Jackson: An art collector in 1950s New York City.

I was surprised—although I shouldn’t have been—each time I checked to see if a person was real, to learn they were. Be sure you read Brooks’ notes at the end of the book.

Jarret becomes a gifted and much sought-after trainer. He “came to believe that horses lived with a world of fear, and when you grasped that, you had a clear idea how to be with them.”

Scott’s renderings of the famous horses of the day portrayed more than the physical representation of how the horse looked. “To do my part, I have to give a man a likeness that shows not just how beautiful the horse looks, but how beautiful it feels to him.” Scott also notes the uniquely “southern” point of view of the time. “They were, all of them, lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognized as true. Their mad conception of Mr. Lincoln as some kind of cloven-hoofed devil’s scion, their complete disregard—denial—of the humanity of the enslaved, their fabulous notions of what evils the Federal government intended for them should their cause fail—all of it was ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence.”

Jarret’s ownership keeps being transferred along with Lexington’s until he finally escapes to Canada. He notes much later, “Let me tell you: I saw it the day I first crossed the border. I could vote there, you see, when I was still counted three fifths of a man here.”

Theo’s character vividly and heartbreakingly illustrates the sad fact of systemic racism that still plagues America.

Recommend. I also recommend Brooks’ other books (March, People of the Book) as well as those of her husband, Tony Horwitz who died a few years ago.

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