Literary Criticism and Significance
Lord of Misrule, published in 2010, is Jaimy Gordon's fourth novel, and won the National Book Award. A book about horse racing, it stands out against more mainstream racing novels such as Secretariat and Seabiscuit; whereas those novels contain more conventional storylines where "the right horse winning the right race makes everything good," Lord of Misrule instead highlights the corrupt, chaotic, and unpredictable side of horse racing.
The book itself met with mixed and contradictory reviews. Gordon's prose and writing style is difficult; each chapter is written from the perspective of a different character, each one containing a distinct voice and dialect. While some reviewers praised this narrative choice as "word-perfect," "poetic," "lyrical," "vividly cinematic," and containing "exuberant linguistic genius," others criticized it as being "over-styled," over-exuberant, hard to follow, and muddled. Because of the frequent shift in narrators, and Gordon's use of "old-timey talk and ethnic dialects," the book itself can be confusing and the plot is often lost or overwhelmed by the style.
Gordon, who is familiar with horse racing from her own personal experience working on a racetrack in West Virginia for 3 years, works her expertise into the novel with ease. However, those that are unfamiliar with horse racing, its culture, its terminology and its operations might find it difficult to navigate through the unfamiliar world. Gordon does not temper the culture or baby the readers by pausing to explain; instead, she jumps right in with the assumption that all will keep up. To her credit, she covers the "seedy underbelly" of the racing world with total clarity and believable detail. Gordon presents rounded, dynamic characters that are "idiosyncratic," flawed, and highly unique. One critic noted that their personalities were so strong that they gave "new meaning to the term character." These characters—horses included—are the true heart of the plotline, whose individual dreams and hopes make the novel "heartbreaking" in its scope and tragedy.
Anyone looking for a distinctly unique, poetic, lyrical, imaginative and stylistic novel to read, or to learn more about the dark side of horse racing, complete with its optimistic dreams and heartbreaking underbelly, will not be disappointed by this engaging read.