“Horse” is a work of historical fiction about horses, race, wealth and art. The novel focuses on a historic racehorse, Lexington. The story spans three different time periods and ties together disparate people and incidents.
The novel begins with Theo in 2019, a Georgetown PhD candidate with diplomat parents and a privileged upbringing. Theo grew up overseas, went to boarding school and played polo. Despite his education and privileged upbringing, he feels that he is constantly the target of racism. He lives across the street from an older couple who sneer at him each time they see him. After the husband dies, the wife puts a number of household items on the curb. Theo takes a portrait of a horse out of the pile. That horse is the famous Lexington.
Jess is from Australia and works for the Smithsonian “managing their vertebrae Osteology Prep Lab at the Museum Support Center in Maryland.” Jess receives a call advising that a researcher from the Royal Veterinary College in England is looking for an articulated skeleton of a horse. That skeleton also happens to be Lexington. Theo and Jess meet accidently but discover they have the horse in common. They commence a romantic relationship which is fraught with racial tension.
In 1850, Dr Warfield has a horse farm and Harry Lewis is a free black man who manages horses for Dr. Warfield. Dr. Warfield purchases Jarret, Harry’s son, at Harry’s request. The horse Lexington is born on Dr. Warfield’s farm and Jarret has a natural relationship with Lexington from the moment of the horse’s birth.
Thomas Scott is an artist who is commissioned to paint Lexington at various points during Lexington’s life. He first meets Lexington and Jarret when both are young, but Scott is a constant presence in their lives.
Lexington is sold a number of times and each time Jarret is sold along with the horse. Each time Jarret is sold, the chapter about Jarret is named differently. First, Warfield’s Jarret, then Ten Broeck’s Jarret, then Alexander’s Jarret, and finally, Jarret Lewis.
Lexington becomes the fastest horse in history and wins a number of races until his failing eyesight causes him to leave the racetrack. Lexington then becomes a stud horse and sires some of the fastest horses in history. Lexington and Jarret’s story continue through 1875, well past the Civil War and into Jarret’s life as a free man in Canada. Lexington’s story is a story of racing, animal cruelty, and Jarret’s dedication to the horse. Thomas Scott’s paintings are also a significant part of the story.
The third segment of the novel involves Martha Jackson, from 1954 through 1956. Martha Jackson comes from a well to do family and her mother was a devoted equestrian until her unfortunate death in a riding accident. Her horse was a descendent of Lexington. Martha runs an art gallery and is close friends with Lee Krasner, Jackson Pollock’s wife. Martha’s housekeeper asks Martha to value a painting of a horse owned by her family. She wants to sell the painting to raise funds to enable her brother to go to medical school. Martha gives her sports car to Jackson Pollock in exchange for two of his paintings, enabling her to buy the horse painting. The painting is done by Thomas Scott and is a painting of Lexington.
The novel tells the story of Lexington and Jarret in parallel with the story of Jess and Theo. There is some happiness in the novel and an awful lot of tragedy. Portions of the story are based on actual events and the author includes an Afterword and a really interesting section entitled “Lexington’s Historical Connections.”
I am a big fan of Gerladine Brooks, and although this is not my favorite of her novels, it is, like everything she does, very very good. So if you are a fan of horses, a student of the Civil War or passionate about art, this is the novel for you.
You can reserve Horse at the Cuyahoga County Public Library by clicking here.