Reviews for Horse Heaven


Booklist Monthly Selections - #2 February 2000
/*Starred Review*/ Smiley's horses almost steal the show from the humans in this symphonic celebration of the byzantine world of thoroughbred horse racing--although a mischievous Jack Russell terrier named Eileen rules supreme whenever the all-seeing narrative eye pans her way. And she's easy to remember. Smiley challenges her readers by introducing new characters in nearly every chapter, from rich and troubled owners to eccentric and troubled trainers; nervous fillies and scampish stallions; a boy with the gift for picking winners; an articulate, horse-crazy 11-year-old girl; a gorgeous store clerk who catches the eye of a wealthy rap star then goes horse-crazy; horse-crazy Irish cousins; an animal communicator who can tune into a horse's stream of consciousness; a kind horse masseur; a calm and creative veterinarian; and a young mother trying valiantly to run her grandfather's stud farm. The list goes on and on, bewilderingly so, and, like a rebellious colt in training, it takes a while for this many-faceted tale to settle down. But eventually, like horse and rider, book and reader do establish a rapport and find a rhythm, and all the disparate story lines start to connect. Meanwhile, Smiley enriches her electrifying and at times melodramatic tale of two years on the thoroughbred racing circuit with a wealth of intimate knowledge about horse breeding, training, and racing, not to mention sensuous description and supple human and equine psychology. And there's more. As involved in metaphysics as she in horse racing, Smiley explores a Zen approach to life, a giving over to chance and the quest for balance between obsession and detachment. This is indeed a big, busy, book, but there is peace at its center. ((Reviewed February 15, 2000)) Copyright 2000 Booklist Reviews

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Kirkus Reviews 2000 March #1
A fast-paced, fetchingly detailed, wide-angled view of the world of horse breeding-and-racing and another lively illustration of Smiley's industrious literary work-ethic and gift for transmuting the products of her obviously extensive research into compelling fiction. The encyclopedic story similar in structure and rhythm to such earlier Smiley successes as A Thousand Acres and the comic romp Moo spans two years (1997 99) and various Kentucky, California, and foreign locales occupied and frequented by the performers, trainers, moneymen, and aficionados thrust together by their common passion for the sport of kings. West Coast multimillionaire Kyle Tompkins, for example, bankrolls the development of can't-miss racehorse Limitless, honed to competitive perfection by skilled trainer Farley Brown and Farley's ardent prot g e and assistant trainer Joy Gorham. Several other groupings of characters (human and animal) shed varying light rather as in a Robert Altman film on such rituals of the sport as auctioning horses, doctoring and birthing and betting on them, and, in several cases, seeking some form of ultimate communion or identification with them. Some of the more intriguing of Smiley s many characters include adulterous Westchester County matron Rosalind Maybrick (and her petulant Jack Russell terrier Eileen), 60-ish free spirit Elizabeth Zada (who claims she can read horses' minds), preadolescent Audrey Schmidt (whose love for equine creatures may or may not stimulate similar feelings for teenaged jockey Roberto Acevedo, and in the neatest surprise veteran gelding Justa Bob (to whose impulses and even thoughts we are made privy), whose excellent track record and stud-worthiness fortuitously affect his life span. The anthropomorphism occasionally verges on feyness (``In reviewing his life after . . . [Justa Bob] developed a painful crack in his right hoof front wall . . . ). But there are few such missteps, and in general the story prances along right smartly. Several horses here are given such names as Nureyev, Lorenzo de Medici, and Ivan Boesky. If one named Jane Smiley ever shows up in the racing form, you might just want to bet the farm on her. (First printing of 150,000; Book-of-the-Month Club alternate selection/Quality Paperback Book Club selection) Copyright 2000 Kirkus Reviews

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Library Journal Reviews 2000 March #2
Pulitzer Prize recipient Smiley continues to show her versatility. Departing from both the hilarious academic comedy of Moo (LJ 3/15/95) and the believable period fiction of The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton (LJ 12/2/97), her tenth novel covers life on the professional horse racing circuit from 1997 to 1999. This is one of two novels slated for April publication dealing with racetracks, but where Alyson Hagy's well-reviewed Keeneland (LJ 2/15/00) focuses on the plight of one embattled employee at a Kentucky track, Smiley aims to capture the complex and often amazing world of horse racing as a whole. The "heaven" of the title is the racetrack itself and its supporting places and people. The places are beautifully rendered, as is the racing action one cinematic scene, of jockeys and horses making their second turn unaware that a stuck gate is blocking the track in front of them, is literally heart-pounding. But it is the characters, not all of them human, who carry this book. Filthy-rich owners; hard-working breeders; trainers both honorable and corrupt, devoted jockeys, grooms, and riders; and even an animal psychic intersect throughout the action, with fascinating and sometimes unintended consequences. Of all the stimulating and interesting characters, though, the standouts are the horses, who are almost as varied in their personalities and fates as the people. A winner by several lengths. Starr E. Smith, Marymount Univ. Lib., Arlington, Va. Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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Publishers Weekly Reviews 2000 February #4
The Chinese calendar aside, 2000 may be the Year of the Horse. Almost neck and neck with Alyson Hagy's Keeneland, this novel about horses and their breeders, owners, trainers, grooms, jockeys, traders, bettors and other turf-obsessed humans is another winner. Smiley, it turns out, knows a prodigious amount about Thoroughbreds, and she is as good at describing the stages of their lives, their temperaments and personalities as she is in chronicling the ambitions, financial windfalls and ruins, love affairs, partings and reconciliations of her large cast of human characters. With settings that range from California and Kentucky to Paris, the novel covers two years in which the players vie with each other to produce a mount that can win high-stakes races. Readers will discover that hundreds of things can go wrong with a horse, from breeding through birth, training and racing, and that every race has variables and hazards that can produce danger and death, as well as the loss of millions of dollars. (A scene in which one horse stumbles and sets off a chain reaction of carnage is heartbreaking.) Characters who plan, scheme, connive and yearn for a winner include several greedy, impetuous millionaires and their wives; one trainer who is a model of rectitude, and another who has found Jesus but is crooked to the core; two preadolescent, horse-obsessed kids; a knockout black woman whose beauty is the entrance key to the racing world; the horses themselves (cleverly, Smiley depicts a horse communicator who can see into the equine mind); and one very sassy Jack Russell dog. Written with high spirits and enthusiasm, distinguished by Smiley's wry humor (as in Moo), the novel gallops into the home stretch without losing momentum. Fans of A Thousand Acres may feel that Smiley has deserted the realm of serious literature for suspense and romance, but this highly readable novel shows that she can perform in both genres with lan. 150,000 first printing; 15-city author tour; Random House audio. (Apr.) Copyright 2000 Cahners Business Information.

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