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  • Written by Jane Smiley
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  • Written by Jane Smiley
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Written by Jane SmileyAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Jane Smiley

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On Sale: January 16, 2001
Pages: | ISBN: 978-0-375-41266-0
Published by : Ballantine Books Ballantine Group
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Synopsis|Excerpt

Synopsis

#1 NATIONAL BESTSELLER A NEW YORK TIMES NOTABLE BOOK

"A WISE, SPIRITED NOVEL . . . [IN WHICH] SMILEY PLUMBS THE WONDROUSLY
STRANGE WORLD OF HORSE RACING." --People

"ONE OF THE PREMIER NOVELISTS OF HER GENERATION, possessed of a mastery
of craft and an uncompromising vision that grow more powerful with each
book . . . Racing's eclectic mix of classes and personalities provides
Smiley with fertile soil . . . Expertly juggling storylines, she
investigates the sexual, social, psychological, and spiritual problems
of wealthy owners, working-class bettors, trainers on the edge of
financial ruin, and, in a typically bold move, horses."
--The Washington Post

"A NOVEL OF PASSION IN EVERY SENSE . . . [SHE DOES] IT ALL WITH APLOMB .
. . WITH A DEMON NARRATIVE INTELLIGENCE."
--The Boston Sunday Globe

"WITTY, ENERGETIC . . . It's deeply satisfying to read a work of fiction
so informed about its subject and so alive to every nuance and detail .
. . [Smiley's] final chapters have a wonderful restorative quality."
--The New York Times Book Review


"RICHLY DETAILED, INGENIOUSLY CONSTRUCTED . . . YOU WILL REVEL IN JANE
SMILEY'S HORSE HEAVEN."
--San Diego Union-Tribune

Chosen by the Los Angeles Times as One of the Best Books of the Year

Excerpt

november 1 / JACK RUSSELL

On the second Sunday morning in November, the day after the Breeders' Cup at Hollywood Park (which he did not get to this year, because the trek to the West Coast seemed a long one from Westchester County and he didn't have a runner, had never had a runner, how could this possibly be his fault, hadn't he spent millions breeding, training, and running horses? Wasn't it time he had a runner in the Breeders' Cup or got out of the game altogether, one or the other?), Alexander P. Maybrick arose from his marriage bed at 6:00 a.m., put on his robe and slippers, and exited the master suite he shared with his wife, Rosalind. On the way to the kitchen, he passed the library, his office that adjoined the library, the weight room, the guest bathroom, the living room, and the dining room. In every room his wife had laid a Persian carpet of exceptional quality—his wife had an eye for quality in all things—and it seemed like every Persian carpet in every room every morning was adorned with tiny dark, dense turds deposited there by Eileen, the Jack Russell terrier. Eileen herself was nestled up in bed with his wife, apparently sleeping, since she didn't raise even her head when Mr. Maybrick arose, but Mr. Maybrick knew she was faking. No Jack Russell sleeps though movement of any kind except as a ruse.

Mr. Maybrick had discussed this issue with Rosalind on many levels. It was not as though he didn't know what a Jack Russell was all about when Rosalind brought the dog home. A Jack Russell was about making noise, killing small animals and dragging their carcasses into the house, attacking much larger dogs, refusing to be house-trained, and in all other ways living a primitive life. Rosalind had promised to start the puppy off properly, with a kennel and a trainer and a strict routine and a book about Jack Russells, and every other thing that worked with golden retrievers and great Danes and mastiffs, and dogs in general. But Eileen wasn't a dog, she was a beast, and the trainer had been able to do only one thing with her, which was stop her from barking. And thank God for that, because if the trainer had not stopped Eileen from barking Mr. Maybrick would have had to strangle her. Rosalind, who sent her underwear to the cleaners and had the windows washed every two weeks and kept the oven spotless enough to sterilize surgical instruments, tried to take the position that the turds were small and harmless, and that the carpets could handle them, but really she just thought the dog was cute, even after Eileen learned to jump from the floor to the kitchen counters, and then walked around on them with her primevally dirty feet, click click click, right in front of Mr. Maybrick, even after Eileen began to sleep under the covers, pushing her wiry, unsoft coat right into Mr. Maybrick's nose in the middle of the night. "Do you know where this dog has been?" Mr. Maybrick would say to Rosalind, and Rosalind would reply, "I don't want to think about that."

Mr. Maybrick was a wealthy and powerful man, and in the end, that was what stopped him. He knew that, in the larger scheme of things, he had been so successful, and, in many ways, so unpleasant about it all (he was a screamer and a bully, tough on everyone), that Eileen had come into his life as a corrective. She weighed one-twentieth of what he did. He could crush her between his two fists. He could also get rid of her, either by yelling at his wife or by sending her off to the SPCA on his own, but he dared not. There was some abyss of megalomania that Eileen guarded the edge of for Mr. Maybrick, and in the mornings, when he walked to the kitchen to get his coffee, he tried to remember that.

The first thing Mr. Maybrick did after he poured his coffee was to call his horse-trainer. When the trainer answered with his usual "Hey, there!," Mr. Maybrick said, "Dick!," and then Dick said, "Oh. Al." He always said it just like that, as if he were expecting something good to happen, and Mr. Maybrick had happened instead. Mr. Maybrick ignored this and sipped his coffee while Dick punched up his response. "Can I do something for you, Al?"

"Yeah. You can put that Laurita filly in the allowance race on Thursday."

"You've got a condition book, then."

"Oh, sure. I want to know what races are being run. You trainers keep everything so dark—"

"Well, sure. Al, listen—"

"Dick, Frank Henderson thinks it's the perfect race for her. A little step up in class, but not too much competi—"

"I'll see."

"I want to do it. Henderson said—"

"Mr. Henderson—"

"Frank Henderson knows horses and racing, right? His filly won the Kentucky Oaks last year, right? He would have had that other horse in the sprint yesterday if it hadn't broken down. Listen to me, Dick. I shouldn't have to beg you." This was more or less a threat, and as he said it, not having actually intended to, Mr. Maybrick reflected upon how true it was. He was the owner. Dick Winterson was the trainer. The relationship was a simple one. Henderson was always telling him not to be intimidated by trainers.

"We'll see." "You always say that. Look, I don't want to watch the Breeders' Cup on TV again next year. Henderson thinks this filly's got class."

"She does, but I want to go slow with her. We have to see how the filly—"

Mr. Maybrick hung up. He didn't slam down the phone—he no longer did that—he simply hung up. If Dick had known him as long as Mr. Maybrick had known himself, he would have realized what a good thing it was, simply hanging up. And here was another thing he could use with his wife. He could say that if he didn't have to pass all those turds in the morning he could start off calmer and his capacity for accepting frustration would last a little longer. It was scientific. When they didn't have the dog, he had gotten practically to the fourth phone call without offending anyone. Now he got maybe to the second. He took another sip of his coffee, and called his broker, then his partner, then his general manager, then his other partner, then his secretary, then his broker again, then his AA sponsor (who was still in bed). This guy's name was Harold W., and he was a proctologist as well as an alcoholic. Mr. Maybrick had chosen him because he was a man of infinite patience and because he knew everything there was to know about prostate glands.

"I want a drink," said Mr. Maybrick. "There's turds all over the house. I bet you can understand that one."

"Good morning, Al. What's really up? You haven't had a drink in two years." "But I'm always on the verge. It's a real struggle with me."

"Say your serenity prayer."

"God—"

"God—" They said the serenity prayer together.

"Look," said Al, "I got this pain in my groin—"

"No freebies. That's the rule. My partner will be happy to—"

"It's like water trickling out of a hose. I can't—"

"You need to be working on your fourth step."

"What's that one again?" "Taking a fearless inventory of your character defects."

"Oh, yeah."

"Trying to get something for nothing is one of your character defects."

"I never pay retail."

"Then you need to work on your third step, Al."

"What's that one?"

"Turning your life over to your higher power."

Mr. Maybrick cleared his throat, as he always did when someone said those higher-power words. Those words always made an image of Ralph Peters come into his head, the guy who used to be head of the Mercantile Exchange in Chicago, and who foiled the Hunt brothers when they tried to corner the silver market back in '80. Peters was an Austrian guy. He had "higher power" written all over him, and he was the last guy Mr. Maybrick had ever feared. He would never turn his life over to Peters.

Harold went on, "Let's think a little more about the last day. What about rage? Have you been raging?"

"Well, sure. A guy in my posi—"

"Should be filled with gratitude. Your position is a gratitude position. Thank you, God, for every frustration, every bad deal, every monetary loss, every balk and obstacle and resistance."

Harold often teased him in this way. Mr. Maybrick felt better for it, because it made him think Harold W. liked him after all, and it reminded him, too, of when his old man had been in a good mood. Joshing him.

"Every non-cooperator, every son of a bitch, every idiot who gets in my way, every slow driver, every—"

"Okay."

"I've got to go to the hospital."

"But I— There's wine in the liquor cabinet."

"Throw it out. I've got to go. The assholes are accumulating."

Mr. Maybrick laughed. Harold W. laughed, too. Harold W. wasn't a saint, by any means. He had been in AA for thirty-two years, at a meeting almost every day. Mr. Maybrick didn't know whether to respect that or have contempt for it, but he knew for a fact that Harold W. was a force to be reckoned with, and he thanked him politely, ragelessly, and hung up the phone.

Now Eileen trotted into the room. It was clear to Mr. Maybrick that the dog was intentionally ignoring him. She clicked over to her bowl and checked it, took a drink from the water dish, circumnavigated the cooking island, and then, casually, leapt onto the granite counter and trotted toward the sink. "Get down, Eileen," said Mr. Maybrick. It was as if he hadn't spoken. Eileen cocked her little tan head and peered into the garbage disposal, noting that the stopper was in place. Her little stump of a tail flicked a couple of times, and she seemed to squat down. She stretched her paw toward the stopper, but her legs were too short; she couldn't reach it. She surveyed the situation for a moment, then went behind the sink, picked up a pinecone that had been hidden there, and jumped down. Only now did she look at Mr. Maybrick. She dropped the pinecone at his slippered feet and backed up three steps, her snapping black gaze boring into his. "I don't want to do that, Eileen," he said. Her strategy was to take little steps backward and forward and then spin in a tight circle, gesturing at the pinecone with her nose. But she never made a sound.

"You're not a retriever, Eileen, you're a terrier. Go outside and kill something."

Indeed, Eileen was a terrier, and with terrier determination, she resolved that Mr. Maybrick would ultimately throw the pinecone. She continued dancing, every few seconds picking up the pinecone and dropping it again. She was getting cuter and cuter. That was her weapon. Mr. Maybrick considered her a very manipulative animal. He looked away from her and took another sip of his (third) cup of coffee. Now she barked once, and when he looked at her, she went up on her hind legs. She had thighs like a wrestler—she seemed to float. Mr. Maybrick had often thought that a horse as athletic as this worthless dog would get into the Kentucky Derby, then the Breeders' Cup, win him ten million dollars on the track, and earn him five million a year in the breeding shed for, say, twenty years. That was $110 million; it had happened to others. He had been racing and breeding horses for eleven years, and it had never happened to him. This was just the sort of thing that made you a little resentful, and rightfully so, whatever Harold W. had to say about gratitude. He closed his eyes when he felt himself sliding that way, beginning to count up the millions he had spent running horses and thinking about deserving. With his eyes closed, Al could hear her drop the pinecone rhythmically on the tile, chock chock chock chock, the bass, her little toenails clicking a tune around it. Didn't he deserve a really big horse? Didn't he? And then, while his eyes were still closed, dog and pinecone arrived suddenly in his lap, a hard, dense little weight but live, electric. With the shock, he nearly dropped his coffee cup, and as it was, spilled on the counter. "God damn it!" he shouted. Eileen jumped down and trotted away. "Hey! Come here, Eileen," he said. "Eileen!" Eileen sheared off into the living room, and he realized that he had forgotten to let her out. Mr. Maybrick put his arms up on the counter and laid his head upon them.
Jane Smiley|Author Q&A

About Jane Smiley

Jane Smiley - Horse Heaven

Photo © Elena Seibert

Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including A Thousand Acres, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, as well as five works of nonfiction and a series of books for young adults. In 2001 she was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and in 2006 she received the PEN USA Lifetime Achievement Award for Literature. She lives in Northern California.
 
Jane Smiley is available for select readings and lectures. To inquire about a possible appearance, please contact Random House Speakers Bureau at rhspeakers@randomhouse.com or visit www.rhspeakers.com. 

Author Q&A

A Conversation with Jane Smiley

Ron Fletcher teaches English at Boston College High School in
Massachusetts. His reviews and interviews have appeared in The Christian
Science Monitor
, The Boston Phoenix, and The Boston Book Review. He is
working on his first novel. Years ago Ron was thrown from a nag.

RF: Your recent novels seem to fill an ever-broadening canvas, evoking
the heyday of the novel with their ambition and scope, myriad
characters, and colorful incidents. Have you deliberately widened the
focus of your fiction?


JS: Well, it's not too deliberate. This sort of work was prefigured in
The Greenlanders, a novel I wrote in the early eighties; it is longer
than Horse Heaven and presents more characters.

Often the subject determines the shape of the novel. In taking up a
generalized sport such as horse racing, I recognized that I'd have to be
prepared to move around the world and into and out of the lives of many
different types of people. I needed a very broad canvas in order to get
even the tiniest flavor of that world down. So, the novel's breadth was
a requirement of the material.

RF: How did you handle the challenge of organizing and structuring so
much material? Did you glimpse a whole from the outset, or did you write
your way into the shape of things?

JS: The whole that I glimpsed from the beginning was much larger than
the finished novel. I began earlier in the horses' lives and covered
much more time. I knew, however, from the start that there were going to
be six horses, and I knew I would follow these six horses as their paths
wound around the lives of various human characters. From my point of
view, the organizational problem wasn't tremendously difficult. I just
had to keep my eye on the horses and know their whereabouts and company.
For the reader who is new to this world, though, the organizational
system might seem a little strange. I often say to people, Remember who
the horses are and everything will fall into place.

RF: You introduce Horse Heaven as a "comic epic poem in prose."

JS: That's a quote from Henry Fielding--from Joseph Andrews, I believe.
First of all, horse racing started during Fielding's time. Thus, the novel
as a genre shares its beginning with that of horse racing. That seemed to
me like a fun coincidence to present. And the idea of a "comic epic poem in prose"
captured my intention: I wanted Horse Heaven to have different kinds of
stories in it, without being a straight comedy or tragedy. I had
envisioned all of these interwoven stories that went in many different
directions. The Fielding allusion seemed like a good way to kill two
birds with one stone; to suggest the original way that authors looked at
the novels they were writing, and to indicate the possibility of many
tones and tales in one work.

RF: Although you present a world with which many are unfamiliar, you
seem to respect your reader's ability to make sense of the novel--double
entendre intended.

JS:
That's true. There's always the issue of how much to tell. Trying to
define every technical term or unfamiliar phrase in the course of the
narrative would result in a very humdrum, pedantic work. I figured that
for good readers the weight of detail will eventually make its mark and
they'll figure out what they need to know.

A number of readers have told me that they've read the book two or three
times. I appreciate that, particularly since Horse Heaven is not a
mystery--there's no big secret or single, explanatory dramatic moment. It
tells many different stories. It's a book that allows one to not keep
things exactly straight the first time they read it and, I hope, invites
a second or third reading.

RF: There's something liberating--and honest--in lifting from the reader
the burden of getting everything.

JS:
There are a lot of novels we read and have no idea what the author
is talking about, yet, we find them compelling. Most of us read, say,
Great Expectations when we're in the eighth grade. How much of it makes
any sense to us? But we keep reading it, and pretty soon we like it.

There's no reason for a modern author not to go down that road. A
certain number of readers will follow a writer anywhere, because of the
concept of the willing suspension of disbelief. If you make the story
interesting enough, someone will suspend disbelief no matter how strange
or unrecognizable the described places and lives are.

I had this problem in spades when I wrote The Greenlanders. I was using
a strange language to talk about a very strange world. The novel was
really, really long and all the people essentially had the same last
name. Nonetheless, The Greenlanders has never been out-of-print.
There's always somebody in the audience who says it's his or her
favorite novel. If the story's there, a reader will follow. Any novel
that is set in an arcane world is going to present problems to its
author. You can piddle around, trying to solve them in some pedantic
way, or you can just have faith in the reader and go for it.

RF: In many ways Horse Heaven presents a meditation on language: the
reach and limits of words; the eloquence of gesture, silence, and other
wordless expressions. How did writing the novel change or challenge your
regard for the written word?

JS:
I don't think the written word is limited. The power of figurative
language remains unexplored. I don't belong to the school of writers who
say, If only I had another tool. The tool that we have is plenty
powerful. I've had a lot of experiences in the last three or four years
that indicate to me that there are all different kinds of communication
between creatures. All of them, nonetheless, can be captured in some
kind of language if the writer is pre-cise enough. So far, I don't
believe that any experience lies beyond lan-guage. Those who say
something is indescribable have chosen not to describe it.

RF: What is the reader's role in all of this?

JS:
It's primary. If the reader feels that the thing described or
characterized is satisfyingly expressed, then the author's opinion about
whether she really did convey what was in her mind is of no consequence.
When I'm reading To the Lighthouse, which really tries hard to describe
stuff that had never been described before, I come away from it with a
feeling of revelation. And if I come away from it with that feeling,
then Virginia Woolf's views on whether or not she succeeded are
immaterial.

RF: Like The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton, Horse
Heaven holds a mirror up to American culture to grapple with the issue
of an American identity. The reflection, as in your previous novel, is
revealing but not always flattering.

JS:
I have a naturally skeptical view of American culture; sometimes I'm
skeptical but happy enough, and other times I'm skeptical and enraged.
A number of my ancestors have been in America since the early
seventeenth century and others since the early eighteenth century. My
family history is very much entwined in the ups and downs of American
culture. The side of my family that resided in the northern states was
made up of strict abolitionists; they certainly engaged in a critique of
culture in their day. And though my family is not overtly political,
we've always discussed what it means to be a mainstream American. We're
not the elite, George Bush type; we're the Bill Clinton type. (Half my
family would die in their tracks if they heard me say that.) My
experience has taught me that people who feel at home in a certain
culture are always quarreling with it. We've always had plenty to say
about how it ought to be but isn't, and that tradi-tion does surface in
my novels.

RF: The racetrack in Horse Heaven functions as a microcosm of democracy
and capitalism, and we have there the inevitable conflict between the
haves and the have-nots, the privileged and the aspiring.

JS:
The track is probably the most concentrated and diverse capitalist
space in any city. There, people from all sorts of ethnic,
socioeconomic, educational, and cultural backgrounds are thrown
together. And despite all that diversity, everybody thinks about the
same two things: money and horses. There's a constant shifting of
balance between an interest in money and an interest in horses. Like
every continuum, there's the pure horse person at one end--one who
doesn't care if he's eating beans cooked on a hot-plate as long as he's
next to his horse. And there's the pure money person who has never
looked at an actual horse race, who has only looked at the racing form
and the simulcast, despite the fact that the horses are right outside
the door.

RF: What did this breakdown offer you as a novelist?

JS:
Two things: pure cynicism and pure mystery. You have pure
calculation on one hand, with the constant figuring of odds, and pure
mystery on the other, with the indeterminate role of chance. Both come
together-- boom--in a big collision, a collision that is pretty much
unmediated by anything else, an individualized collision.

At the track, there's no sense of being on a team, there's no sense of
having your allegiance to a group. You're a pure individual surrounded
by pure individuals responding to a horse who is a pure individual.
That's another sense in which the track is the ultimate capitalist
space. It's where individualism is the only form of human expression;
there's no collective form of human expression at the racetrack.

RF: There also seems to be an undercurrent of existentialism or, some
might say, spiritual groping: that which exists in the wake of a futile
attempt to quantify or explain mystery. We also have the enduring
struggle between fate and fortuity.

JS:
At the racetrack you're always in the presence of the ineffable,
which some people prefer to call luck. The expression used in racing for
a horse that nobody thought could win but comes from far behind to do
so is "He came from the clouds." And what else comes from the clouds?
Revelation. Grace. There's always this sense of the ineffable at the
racetrack, a feeling that can reveal itself as mystery or as something
more sinister and dangerous.

As soon as individuals are gathered in one place and act as individuals
rather than a group, the layers of unknowability begin to proliferate.
All the factors that you might want to take into consideration cannot be
taken into consideration. Finally, you take a leap of faith and land in
the presence of the ineffable. People respond differently to this
experience; some try to systematize it, others try to ritualize it, and
a few just enjoy it, seeing it as a form of mystery that cannot be
plumbed, only received.

RF: It sounds like you belong to the last group.

JS:
Spending time with horses teaches you to experience the moment
fully. Every moment you have with a horse is intense yet fleeting.
Horses are inherently changeable. As a prey animal, a horse's
instincts--in the name of self-preservation--always say "flight." He's
acutely aware of his environment, easily scared, and easily distracted.
If you want a horse to do a particular thing, you have to habituate the
horse moment by moment. This patient, deliberate approach is required
for getting the horse to do something as simple as walking a straight line,
which doesn't come naturally to him. So every moment with every horse is
full but fleeting. People who love horses have some kind of relationship to
the fleeting quality of life. Either they love horses in spite of it or they love
horses and appreciate that.

RF: With Horse Heaven you had an opportunity to marry your two chief
passions, writing and horses. What happens now?

JS:
Well, I have a horse at the racetrack, a yearling who is ready to go
to the training farm, and three weanlings that look like really good
prospects. So life among the horses continues. They, like writing, are a
central part of my life, and I think about them often. I don't foresee
doing a sequel to Horse Heaven. The horses have all been taken care
of--in one way or another. What I'd love to do is a televi-sion series
about life at the racetrack. I think it would be wonderful.

I'm so deeply involved with horses every day. I did several horse
related things today. There are plenty of times, though, when I think,
Gee, this is costing me so much money--what's the payoff? Then I go out
and the horse does some mildly idiosyncratic thing that I absolutely
love. There's the payoff. If I'd ask myself how much that fleeting
moment cost me, I'd probably keel over. If we questioned the cost of
having children or being in love or building a house--doing anything that
makes us happy--then we'd never do anything.

RF: It seems as though the line between horse and human in your novel is
even more blurred in your day-to-day experience.

JS:
I prefer to think of it like this: Everybody is essentially a
spiritual being who is temporarily settled in a horse or a human or a
dog--whatever. Our essential communication with another being is a
spiritual communication, which is filtered through one body to another
despite differences in shape or form.

With a horse, for example, there's a connection that takes place on a
very arcane, spiritual level--not in the realm of motions or actions or
intentions. We meet in the realm of attention. The job of the
horse-trainer or lover or parent or novelist is to remove the various
obstacles to spiritual connection in order to meet the other being in
the realm of true attention.

Awards

Awards

NOMINEE 2001 Orange Prize for Fiction
Author Biography|Discussion Questions

About the Author

Jane Smiley is the author of nine previous works of fiction, including The Age of Grief, The Greenlanders, Ordinary Love & Good Will, A Thousand Acres (for which she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize), and Moo. She lives in northern California.

Discussion Guides

1. Introducing her work as a "comic epic poem in prose," Ms. Smiley warns her readers that the characters and events in Horse Heaven are no more than "figments of the author's imaginings," and that "their characteristics as represented bear no relation to real life." Discuss the levels of irony in her remark. Also, how does the description of genre fit or mislead?

2. Most characters in Horse Heaven are struggling with the issue of identity. What makes the matter more pressing for some than for others? What approaches frustrate or facilitate attempts at clarity? How is the issue different for the horses than for the humans? What role do places and other beings play as a character tries to navigate the world within?

3. Ms. Smiley plays with many modes of humor throughout Horse Heaven, from slapstick to the absurd to keen satire. Provide examples of each. How do they blend into one another? Are there moments of gallows humor? If not, why? To what use does Ms. Smiley put her comedic turns? How much do they
color the novel?

4. What cherished American myths does Horse Heaven satirize, if not debunk? Which myths does it uphold? Does Ms. Smiley tell a distinctly American story as well as one capable of resonating elsewhere? If so, what allows her subject to transcend place and time?

5. Ms. Smiley has discussed the primacy of the individual in the world of horse racing, yet her novel is replete with relationships of every sort. Discuss the connection that exists between the social and private realms. How does one shape and define the other? What themes surface in exploring the connection
between the two?

6. Fate and fortuity are opposing forces in Horse Heaven. Which characters choose to see themselves as players in a destiny authored by some mysterious other? Which see the exercise of their individual will as the shaping force in their lives? How do self-deception and honesty factor into each perspective?
Explain how the ways and world of horses shed light on these matters.

7. What motivates characters such as Farley Jones and Buddy Crawford to turn to religion? How does their work express or contradict their beliefs? Where else does religion surface in the novel? Should the benevolent force apparently at work throughout the novel be construed in religious terms?

8. Explain how desire operates as a persistent, enigmatic force throughout Horse Heaven. Which characters bow to it, and which manage to control it? Is there more joy in the wanting or the receiving? Does Oscar Wilde's quip about the tragedy of getting what one wants apply? How and to whom?

9. Ms. Smiley has celebrated the racetrack as a storyteller's paradise. Which characters prove most adept at spinning fact into fiction? How do they use that talent? What motivates the mythologizing and romanticizing of horses—and some humans—that takes place throughout the novel? What is it about
the world of horses that makes possible, if not credible, such an array of tall tales?

10. Ms. Smiley has stressed the need for novelists to engage readers by imaginatively explicating the social, cultural, economic, and political reality of a particular moment. What is the significance of her choice of historical moment in Horse Heaven? What themes are amplified in Ms. Smiley's handling of the years 1997 through 1999? Where do the worlds of horses and politics meet? How do race and gender factor into the novel? Does the world of horses offer a complete and complex microcosm? If not, what's missing?

11. After describing thoroughbreds as exuberant and sensitive creatures of many opinions and a deep intelligence, the omniscient narrator informs us that they have "too much of every lively quality rather than too little." How do characters such as Epic Steam and Residual live up to this description?

12. Discuss the arc of Justa Bob's life. Who are his literary forerunners? How does Ms. Smiley's handling of the character achieve pathos while avoiding bathos?

13. Which points outlined in Farley's "The Tibetan Book of Thoroughbred Training" are validated by the novel's close? Which prove wanting? How would you amend the list to capture the spirit of Horse Heaven?

14. How does Ms. Smiley's careful chronicling of the ins and outs of horse breeding and training, compare with our insoluble debates about the roles of genetics and environment in shaping who we are? Do you believe that nature or nurture has the upperhand in defining a horse? A human? Why?

15. Ms. Smiley has encouraged those readers overwhelmed by the array and number of characters simply to keep an eye on the horses. Thus, time with the novel evokes time at the racetrack. How else does the structure of the novel complement its content? Provide examples.

16. One is tempted to credit much of the drama in Horse Heaven to coincidence, yet the intricacies of the plot suggest something else. What does Ms. Smiley's chronicling of many individuals' wills in conflict say about that which we often lazily call luck?

17. Many have lauded the complexity and pluck of Ms. Smiley's horses by comparing them to humans. Do her horses maintain their, well, horseness, or are they—through an act of anthropomorphism—transformed into creatures defined by human fears, desires, frustrations, etcetera? Discuss the dynamic relationship between horses and humans.

18. Find and discuss the passages in Horse Heaven where you see Ms. Smiley working in the grand tradition of the novel's heyday—the middle of the nineteenth century. Can you detect the influence of Dickens, Trollope, or Balzac? Where? To what other writers and literary traditions does Ms. Smiley tip her hat? How is Horse Heaven a novel of our time and of another?

Jane Smiley

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Jane Smiley - Horse Heaven

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  • Horse Heaven by Jane Smiley
  • February 27, 2001
  • Fiction
  • Ballantine Books
  • $15.00
  • 9780449005415

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