Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
In St. Urbain’s Horseman, Mordecai Richler uses cinematic techniques as he weaves together a number of different plot strands and cuts from one character to another. The most important elements of this complex plot are the fate and struggle for success of the main character, Jacob “Jake” Hersh; Harry Stein’s past and his role as a contrast and antagonist to the main character; a brief and spotty life of Joseph “Joey” Hersh, the Horseman of the title; and Jake’s fascination with him. Many of the chapters juxtapose one character to another. This device is especially prominent in the contrasts between the well-to-do Jake Hersh and the poor Harry Stein. The Horseman, Joey, is used as a symbol or theme, and his presence is scattered throughout the book. The most important plot strand deals with Jake Hersh.
When the novel opens, Jake Hersh is awaiting trial in London on some unexplained sexual offense. The resolution of the trial is suspended until the end, while Jake’s earlier life and anxieties are traced. Jake is, for example, anxious about his career as a director, about the success of his friend Luke, about his wife, Nancy, and about Nazi war criminals and the Jews. He spends most of his time cutting out newspaper clippings of disasters. In flashbacks, there is a contrast between the younger, more confident Jake and the worried and idle Jake now apparent. He is worried that he will lose everything he has achieved and that the world will sink back into the barbarism of the 1940’s.
In contrast to Jake, Harry Stein is always active and in pursuit of any one of the many things denied him, such as...
(The entire section is 672 words.)
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Summary (Magill's Survey of World Literature, Revised Edition)
In St. Urbain’s Horseman, Jake Hersh is a successful thirty-seven-year-old film director. He lives comfortably in London in 1967 with his wife, Nancy, and their three children until Ingrid Loebner, a German au pair girl, charges him and his friend, the disreputable Harry Stein, with rape. Richler delays the details of the charges until late in the novel, flashing back to depict Jake’s life before this ordeal.
Growing up with Duddy Kravitz on St. Urbain Street in Montreal, Jake finds his life disrupted when his parents’ marriage ends. He retreats into hero worship of his cousin, Joey, who has been a minor league baseball player, actor, folksinger, soldier in the Spanish Civil War, gambler, gangster, and communist. Jake slowly evolves an elaborate myth about Joey, the Horseman, whom he sees as the redeemer of the Hersh family, the St. Urbain neighborhood, and Jews in general.
The teenaged Jake decides to become a director and moves to Toronto to work on television and stage productions. After he and his playwright friend Luke Scott feel that they have conquered Toronto, they seek the even greater challenges of London. Jake gradually becomes jealous of Luke, who finds success first. Jake marries Nancy, becomes a film director, and continues his search for Joey, who disappeared twenty years earlier. After finding Ruthy Flam, who claims Joey proposed to her, took her money, and abandoned her, he discovers evidence that Joey may be tracking down Joseph Mengele, the infamous Nazi war criminal.
Through Ruthy, he meets Harry, a Cockney Jew who forces his friendship upon Jake. A twice-convicted felon whose hobby is pornographic photography, Harry represents the uninhibited side of his nature that Jake keeps restrained. Allowing Harry to use his house while he is in Montreal for his father’s funeral and Nancy and the children are in the country, Jake returns early and stumbles into Harry’s orgy with Ingrid. Jake throws her out when she insults his Jewishness, the police find her in tears, and a trial...
(The entire section is 836 words.)
Bibliography (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
Powe, Bruce W. A Climate Charged: Essays on Canadian Writers, 1984.
Sheps, G. David. “Waiting for Joey: The Theme of the Vicarious in St. Urbain’s Horseman,” in Journal of Canadian Fiction. III (Winter, 1974), pp.83-92.
Tallman, Warren. “Need for Laughter,” in Canadian Literature. LVI (Spring, 1973), pp. 71-83.
Yardley, Jonathan. Review in The New York Times Book Review. LXIV (June 27, 1971), p. 7.