Review published on April 2, 2016.
As far as plot is concerned this is the story of four generations of the Forge family and their relationship with the land and people of Kentucky where they have farmed since it was first settled by white people. Henry Forge, growing up in the shadow of his dominant father, John Henry, determines to turn the farm into a racehorse stud and to breed the perfect racehorse. His daughter, Henrietta, is born to be the partner in and successor to his ambition of achieving perfection.
In contrast to the life of privilege on the Forge farm, Allmon Shaunessy grows up in Cincinnati, the son of an absent white father and a poor black mother. Through twists of fortune he becomes the stallion groom on the Forge farm and his life and dreams become inextricably linked with the Forges.
But the plot is really secondary to the ambition to tell the story of Kentucky and the deep divisions which still exist between the experience of black and white. The writing is dense and there were moments when I didn’t really understand where the author was going with an idea and others, such as when she describes the coming of spring to Kentucky, when I just wanted to read the passages over and over again to savour the language.
Every one of the major characters is broken in some way and it was often difficult to empathise with them, even as I understood what had made them act the way they did. The section about Allmon growing up in Cincinnati was the most straightforwardly written, the most compelling and heartbreaking.
This is not an easy read, neither the dense writing style nor the dark themes of violence, racism and abusive relationships, but it is compelling and I wasn’t tempted at any point to give up.
I certainly didn’t understand every nuance of this book but I did understand the passion of the writer for her subject and gained a new appreciation of the deep seated issues of race in the South, the long scars which haven’t healed. This is a book which is bigger than its characters and I think would reveal more on a second reading. I think it would be a discussion-provoking read for book groups.
The Sport of Kings by CE Morgan
4th Estate hbk May 2016
Leaving Before The Rains Come by Alexandra Fuller
SECOND OPINION: A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
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