I don't like horses. I grew up with them, and had a connection with one once, but in general they are not the animals for me. I do, however, love Geraldine Brooks, so despite my disinterest in the subject here, I wanted to give this a read.
Interestingly enough, the horse in question, Lexington, along with his groomer/trainer/best friend Jarrett, has the best story in this novel. Their connection with each other, on an emotional and spiritual level, is palpable.
Unfortunately, there is a lot more than their story shoehorned in to the novel. Brooks takes on the history of American horseracing and breeding, art history, race relations, the Civil War, professional workplace sexism, modern police brutality, and more, and it's just too many plates to hold up in one story without all of them suffering.
Though Jarrett was by far my favorite character in this novel, I do not believe that his story, or the story of Theo the art historian grad student, was Brooks's stories to tell. Framing what happens to Theo through the view of his white girlfriend was tone-deaf at best. Divorced from the other topics covered in the novel, and in the hands of a different author, I think both of their stories would have been much more powerful and honest.
Geraldine Brooks has done it again: written a transcendent book that is so much more than the sum of its parts. Brooks is a must-read author for me, but Horse was made even more special by my teenage racehorse madness years. I read every book I could get my hands on about Thoroughbred racing and its stars. My mother indulged my obsession: when she went to Kentucky on a genealogy trip, I got to overdose on racehorses, meeting greats like Citation and actually seeing the grave of Lexington, the horse that Brooks centered her book upon.
In Brooks' Afterword, she says, "As I began to research Lexington's life, it became clear to me that this novel could not merely be about a racehorse, it would also need to be about race," and she does this in masterful fashion. Whether it's watching the years pass and Lexington's groom being known as one owner's Jarret after another to-- finally-- having his own name untainted by slavery (Jarret Lewis) or watching the unfolding relationship between the interracial couple Jess and Theo in 2019 and the differences in their experiences and outlooks on the world, the reader becomes totally engaged in the characters' lives.
Horse is so much more than a fascinating animal story. It is also a powerful story of art, science, and-- above all-- race. It is a story to take in deep. It is a story to remember