Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Review: "The Sport of Kings" by C. E. Morgan

Well, this was a total surprise. To say that C. E. Morgan’s debut novel All the Living did not wow me would be an understatement. It was a competently written novel that was a bit too flighty and over meditative, and almost five years after reading it in 2011, I don’t remember much about it. That is why her new novel, The Sport of Kings is such a refreshing surprise for me. This is a complex work that shattered my expectations, and I am happier for it. Through this microcosm of horseracing and horse breeding, Morgan deals with a number of relevant issues such as race, progress and our inherited sense of duty in a way that rarely gets old (I will talk about those few and far between times this book does get to be a little bit of a hassle) and builds upon the intricate structure the book lays out. It is a long book and as a reader I felt every bit of its 545 pages, but it was an enriching experience to go through. One of the things that make the book so long is how it is divided up. There are only six chapter breaks, five interludes and one epilogue, and while sometimes that can leave me breathless, which this book did at points, the story really warrants such leaps in skill and scope. The novel begins with Henry Forge, one of the book’s main characters. He is running from his hard-lined and racist father after destroying the property of one of his neighbors. The punishment is cruelly drawn out by John Henry to teach Henry a lesson. As this section moves forward we see the two obsessions that give Henry the will to live and will eventually destroy him: white supremacy and breeding horses, one of which is taught to him in eloquent and disturbing passages by his father and one that his father despises and forbids him to pursue. He does so, an act which symbolically kills his father. The next section concerns his daughter, Henrietta, who follows in her father’s footsteps all the while sleeping with as many men as possible in loveless, tawdry trysts. This leads to her sleeping with Allmon, the half-black, half-white employee whose sad life story takes up the third and best section of the book. Struck with case after case of bad luck, with dead relatives and prison sentences, Allmon comes to the Forge farm looking to start over, but is caught up in a series of events that are grand, otherworldly and deeply symbolic, all qualities this book exemplifies with style and grace. Sometimes this book is a bit too flighty, as I said before, with its interludes (not its haunting epilogue) being superfluous and more often than not stultify this book’s smooth hypnotic rhythm. They could have been excessed and the book would not suffer. But that is a minor issue for a book this rich in subtext and acute symbolism that carries the reader away on its back with heart stopping metaphors. 

Rating: 5/5

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