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Lord of Misrule- Think I’m Missing Something

January 29, 2011

Lord of Misrule
Jaimy Gordon
294 pages

I added Lord of Misrule to my library selection because I was intrigued by Agnes Krup’s review of it for Women’s Voices For Change.

And… I think I liked her review better than I liked the book. She called it “a horse race of a book,” and devoured it in one sitting. I grazed on it, and took days and days to finish it.

We meet a bunch of scarred, crazy, only sometimes funny losers who more or less live in the stables, or in nearby trailers. They are disillusioned, tired, broken, but they all have a passion for horses. Or know how to make a business out of them. Or both. The horses are every bit as disillusioned, tired, broken and losing as they are.

Medicine Ed, in his early seventies, has spent his life grooming and warming up horses for others, limping from having been kicked by one of them many years earlier. He knows a thing or two about herbs and spells, and nothing going on around the track fools his sharp eye. So when pretty young Maggie Koderer breezes in from out of nowhere and haughtily demands stables for the five horses her no-good boyfriend Tommy is bringing in a trailer, Ed smells trouble.

I didn’t mind the imaginative stretch it took to picture a dusty racing track, for a city girl in between blizzards. I’ve read books that enliven the romance of the race track, evoking it for the nonbeliever. Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. My Racing Heart by Nan Mooney. Both written by racing’s spectators, bridging the gap between the track’s world and the reader.

The way Gordon writes Lord of Misrule has more of the interior monologue and humid rhythms of a poem, of Southern accented stream of consciousness. I found myself dipping in and out of the story, enjoying the turns of phrase well enough. But many times, I found the shifting perspectives hard to balance against keeping track of the narrative. Between Medicine Ed contemplating Maggie as “the frizzly haired girl”; the disconcerting second person narrative for Tommy’s repugnant predatory thoughts; and never being entirely sure whether the woman in the humid trailer referred to Deucey or Maggie; I got confused when I tried to lay the story out in some semblance of linear precision.

But, letting language and phrases wash over me like poetry, focusing more on sound than small details, it was a heady, even magical experience. It’s definitely an atmospheric novel- the way everyone’s lives and emotions are bound to the race track binds up the language itself.

I feel like I respect the craft of this book, the intensity of focus on the racetrack’s world. Which doesn’t mean I enjoyed the book entirely. I can tell it got under my skin, in the way of a dream you can’t entirely shake.

It may be that reading this as a library book (one that is about to be overdue and needs to go back tomorrow) does this book a disservice. Language this rich, and characters this flawed need lingering over. I wish I could renew it, but it’s on hold to someone else. Who might enjoy it more than I did.

For every book I read in 2011, I’m donating $1 to the New York Public Library. Donate now to help them keep me in books!

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