"It's not true," says a character in Jane Smiley's funny, passionate, and brilliant new novel of horse racing, "that anything can happen at the racetrack," but many astonishing and affecting things do—and in Horse Heaven, we find them woven into a marvelous tapestry of joy and love, chicanery, folly, greed, and derring-do.
Haunting, exquisite Rosalind Maybrick, wife of a billionaire owner, one day can't quite decide what it is she wants, and discovers too late that her whole life is transformed . . . Twenty-year-old Tiffany Morse, stuck in her job at Wal-Mart, prays, "Please make something happen here . . . This time, I mean it," and something does . . . Farley, a good trainer in a bad slump; Buddy, a ruthless trainer who can't seem to lose even though he knows that his personal salvation depends upon it; Roberto, an apprentice jockey who has "the hands" but is growing too big for his dream career with every passing day; Leo the gambler and his earnest son, Jesse, who understands everything about his father's "system" except why it doesn't work; Elizabeth, the 62-year-old theorist of sex and animal communication, and her best friend, Joy, the mare manager at the ranch at the center of the universe—all are woven together by the horses that pass among them: Two colts and two fillies who begin with the promise of talent and breeding, and now might or might not achieve stardom.
There are the geldings—Justa Bob, the plain brown horse who always wins by a nose, a lovable claimer who passes from owner to owner on a heart-wrenching journey down from the winner's circle; and the beautiful Mr. T., raced in France and rescued in Texas, who is discovered to have some unusual and amazing talents.
And then there is the Jack Russell terrier, Eileen, a dog with real convictions—and the will to implement them.
The strange, compelling, sparkling, and mysterious universe of horse racing that has fascinated generations of punters and robber barons, horse-lovers and wits, has never before been depicted with such verve and originality, such tenderness, such clarity, and, above all, such sheer exuberance.