A novel that captures the dusty, dark, and beautiful world of small-time horse racing, where trainers, jockeys, grooms and grifters vie for what little luck is offered at a run-down West Virginia track.
This novel is so assured, exotic and uncategorizable, with such an unlikely provenance, that it arrives as an incontrovertible winner, a bona fide bolt from the blue … The book’s dramatis personae are of the two- and four-legged varieties. And Ms. Gordon seems to fathom both species equally well … Ms. Gordon is magically adept at fusing the banal and the mythic in a creature like [Lord of Misrule]. She’s also keenly attuned to all the aspects of carnality and power that infuse this story … Lord of Misrule edges toward some drastic final twists without ever escaping the impression that it is more of a short-story cycle than a full-fledged novel. And its texture is thick even when Ms. Gordon is at her most lighthearted.
Her four horse characters – Mr. Boll Weevil, Little Spinoza, Pelter and Lord of Misrule – are bursting with personality … Every race in these pages is strangely dramatic, no matter how cheap, and the races she describes are not only cheap, but also corrupt. Maybe the key is that the horses don't know that they are not supposed to try, and so they run themselves to the edge of their capacities just because they've been asked to. The result is that Lord of Misrule is a very somber novel, easy to like but hard to take … For that sense of being steeped in a specific and alien world, it is remarkable.
Void and menace are the operating principles in Lord of Misrule. First, it's hard to sort the men from the horses, so similar are their slaveries, their striving for nothing, their tendency to be ruled by lesser animals … This rich, soupy (as in primal soup, many ingredients) milieu that Gordon creates — all the names and hints of back story glimmering in the dust — serve to make a character shine, really shine, when he or she rises up and out. You hear chains popping all through this novel, little acts of will and big acts of self-determination. It's astonishing how quickly, with all this description, Gordon can get to a philosophical point or make a character unforgettable.