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A Year at the Races

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About the Author

Jane Smiley is the author of numerous novels, including, most recently, Good Faith, as well as a critically acclaimed biography of Charles Dickens. She is the recipient of a Pulitzer Prize and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2001. Smiley owns several horses and lives in Northern California.


Pultizer Prize winner Smiley (A Thousand Acres; Horse Heaven) takes us behind the scenes of the racetrack for a look at one year in the life of an amateur racehorse owner-herself. She believes that every horse story is a love story and that a love story must have three elements: the lover, the beloved, and the adventure they share. Her story meets these criteria. Smiley does indeed love her horses and makes certain that they have the best care she can give them, including food, exercise, a job they are suited for, the companionship of other horses, and the love of a human being. As an owner, Smiley ardently wished for her horses' success at racing and consulted veterinarians, animal communicators, trainers, jockeys, and astrologists in order to achieve it. Ultimately, however, she put her horses' needs first. Her story is many things: humorous, thought-provoking, educational, exciting, and heartwarming. Recommended for all public libraries.-Patsy Gray, Huntsville P.L., AL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

In a wide-ranging and detailed, yet somewhat flat memoir, Smiley (A Thousand Acres; Moo; etc.) examines the nuances of horses' lives and of the people who build their lives around them. She does not aim "to evoke horseness, but to evoke horse individuality; to do what a novelist naturally does, which is to limn idiosyncrasy and character, and thereby to shade in some things about identity." This she accomplishes through illustrative episodes with some of the horses she has owned, focusing on two and their fortunes at the track. While the book offers anecdotes and an array of Smiley's theories about horse personality and cognizance, it lacks the narrative or dramatic flair that one expects would come naturally from such an accomplished novelist. The writing can often be formulaic: "In June, Eddie died, and Alexis became my trainer. Hornblower was two. I was fifty. Alexis was forty-eight. Mr. T. had died the year before, at twenty. Jackie was three. Persey was four. Alexis and I began to become friends." Smiley talks of moving her horse from one track to another as "being asked to leave Harvard and take a course at Boston University," and she delights in cutting a grand figure when arriving at the more posh tracks in a publisher-provided Mercedes limousine. In the end, the book provides a meticulous look at the world of thoroughbred horses, but it has too many flaws to be a perfectly enjoyable read. Agent, Molly Friedrich. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.

"Exuberant . . . witty, completely delightful. . . . A kind of National Velvet for adults." -San Francisco Chronicle "Smiley is arguably America's foremost author on the subject of love. . . . And love imbues this memoir." -The Washington Post "Smiley has flung herself headlong . . . into horse racing. . . . Enough good horse stories to keep any reader happy." -The New York Times Book Review "Invigorating . . . thought-provoking. A delightful book filled with arcane horse knowledge. . . . It could easily become the bible of the barn." -The Baltimore Sun

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