"A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across American history Kentucky, 1850. Jarrett, an enslaved groom, and a bay foal forge a bond of understanding that will carry the horse to record-setting victories across the South. As the nation erupts in civil war, an itinerant young artist who has made his name painting the racehorse takes up arms for the Union. On a perilous night, he reunites with the stallion and his groom, very far from the glamor of any racetrack. New York City, 1954. Martha Jackson, a gallery owner celebrated for taking risks on edgy contemporary painters, becomes obsessed with a 19th equestrian oil painting of mysterious provenance. Washington, DC, 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist from Australia, and Theo, a Nigerian-American art historian, find themselves unexpectedly drawn to one another through their shared interest in the horse - one studying the stallion's bones for clues to his power and endurance, the other uncovering the lost history of the unsung Black horsemen who were critical to his racing success. Based on the remarkable true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred, Lexington, who became America's greatest stud sire, Horse is a gripping, multi-layered reckoning with the legacy of enslavement and racism in America"--
An interesting snapshot of a time long gone.
The Rest of It:
"A discarded painting in a junk pile, a skeleton in an attic, and the greatest racehorse in American history: from these strands, a Pulitzer Prize winner braids a sweeping story of spirit, obsession, and injustice across
Based on the true story of the record-breaking thoroughbred Lexington, Horse is a living and breathing account of Kentucky in 1850 and beyond. Jarret is the enslaved groom hired to care for young Lexington. A horse bred to win, but the unusual bond between the two is threatened to be broken when Lexington begins to get the attention of those wanting to profit off of Lexington’s noble lineage.
Fast forward to 2019. Jess, a Smithsonian scientist becomes curious about a skeleton found in the attic of the museum. As she works to restore it, properly articulating each bone, she realizes that a horse of this stature most likely had quite a history. Enter Theo, he finds a discarded painting of a horse and it turns out that the two are related.
Horse is one of those stories that spans decades and includes many key players but the story that held my attention the most was the bond between Jarret and Lexington. Everything else, although interesting on its own, took me away from what I really wanted to focus on, this magnificent creature and the boy hired to care for him. Status, race, slavery. It’s all here.
This is not a book I would have picked up on my own but as a book club book, I think there will be plenty to discuss.
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Many of the characters, including Lexington, his various owners, the painter Scott and the art dealer, are based on real persons (and a real champion horse). The multiple story lines not only depict the brutality and dehumanization of the pre-Civil War racing world but the role of African-Americans and slavery within that world, with a good measure of science, art dealership, and art history thrown in as well. The meeting of Jess and Theo unites these elements in our time, and their developing relationship and Jarret's story provide plenty of human interest that saves the novel from becoming too dry. At first, the multiple stories and time periods are a little off-putting, but Brooks brilliantly ties them together as the novel develops. Just when I was about to abandon 'Horse,' I was swept away. I couldn't put it down and finished reading at 4:15 a.m.!
Brooks weaves three timelines together around the horse's story with the primary focus on Jarret, his enslaved trainer who, despite all, manages to be there from its birth in 1850 to its death after a long life. Jarret's relationship with an equestrian painter, Thomas Scott, sets the stage for the two other timelines. In the 1950s, gallery owner and friend of Jackson Pollock, Martha Jackson encounters one of Scott's paintings and becomes obsessed. In the present day, Lexington and Jarret come to the attention of Theo and Jess, the latter a Smithsonian scientist interested in the bones, the former an art historian intrigued by the stories of the Black men at the heart of horse racing before the Civil War. Their interracial relationship forms another important theme in the book and leads to its shocking climax.
Crafted, precise, the three stories flow together, showing how history moves from generation to generation.
invested in both. Heartbreakingly so!
An unforgettable story, and yes Lexington the horse was very real, much of this story is factual in one way or another. A stirring story about the ongoing struggle for racial equality and the tragedy of a hate that continues to this day. IMO, no one could have written it better.
Also central to the story is the overwhelming oppression of slavery during the Civil War era and the lasting effects of it in the form of systemic racism in the present day.
Although I did find some of the interpretations of modern-day racism as seen through the eyes of Jess, one of the main characters, seemed simplistic, overall, Horse is a great read!
The historical detail is impressive. It is based on a real horse, but the details of the storyline are fiction. Readers will get a feel for antebellum thoroughbred racing. For me, the touching relationship between Jarret and Lexington is a highlight of the book. The narrative shifts between time periods, adding a brief visit to a third timeline in the 1950s.
The story is a mixture of art, science, history, and social commentary. Parts of this book are compelling and beautifully written. The author is trying to do a lot with this story, and it feels a little disjointed, especially during the transitions. The 1950s timeline could probably have been cut, and elements of it included in the other two.
I found the 19th century storyline by far the most compelling. The present-day timeline is less effective as there did not seem much of a connection between Jess and Theo. I think the unexpected scene toward the end would have been even more impactful if the reader cared more about them. As a warning, there is a good amount of cruelty and tragedy in this one.
Interestingly enough, the horse in question, Lexington,
Unfortunately, there is a lot more than their story shoehorned in to the novel. Brooks takes on the history of American horseracing and breeding, art history, race relations, the Civil War, professional workplace sexism, modern police brutality, and more, and it's just too many plates to hold up in one story without all of them suffering.
Though Jarrett was by far my favorite character in this novel, I do not believe that his story, or the story of Theo the art historian grad student, was Brooks's stories to tell. Framing what happens to Theo through the view of his white girlfriend was tone-deaf at best. Divorced from the other topics covered in the novel, and in the hands of a different author, I think both of their stories would have been much more powerful and honest.
In Brooks' Afterword, she says, "As I began to research Lexington's life, it became clear to me that this novel could not merely be about a racehorse, it would also need to be about race," and she does this in masterful fashion. Whether it's watching the years pass and Lexington's groom being known as one owner's Jarret after another to-- finally-- having his own name untainted by slavery (Jarret Lewis) or watching the unfolding relationship between the interracial couple Jess and Theo in 2019 and the differences in their experiences and outlooks on the world, the reader becomes totally engaged in the characters' lives.
Horse is so much more than a fascinating animal story. It is also a powerful story of art, science, and-- above all-- race. It is a story to take in deep. It is a story to remembe
In the present, Theo a Nigerian-American graduate student in art history at Georgetown University, pulls a painting from a neighbor’s trash pile. It seems to be the very subject he is proposing for his thesis – Civil War era paintings of horses with black grooms
The earlier timeline begins in Kentucky in 1850 where a promising foal is born. A slave boy, known as Warfield’s Jarrett is there at the colt's birth and becomes inseparable from him during the horse’s brilliant racing career, his escape to the North during the Civil war and his years at stud until the great stallion passes away.
It’s a wonderful story based on an actual event where Lexington’s skeleton was truly discovered after being forgotten for decades. The skeleton is now on permanent loan to the American Museum of the Horse.
As a horse story, it’s well written. The author is a horsewoman and get the details right.
Other themes include of course, art, art restoration and art history of the horses painted before photography. The abolitionist Cassius Clay is a secondary character (yes, there is a connection with the boxer).
As Ms Brooks said the story is not about race horses but about Racism – capital R writ large. I was intrigued at the twists and stunned by the ending.
Although I always fall for a good horse story, this one is 5 stars.