|Finished||December 20, 2022|
Jarret, an enslaved man from the 19th century, is linked with Theo, a Black art historian, in the 21st century through a race horse. American themes of enslavement and racism impact both of their lives. The novel deftly moves back and forth between the two eras.
Theo discovers a painting of a race horse from the 19th century in a neighbor’s junk pile after helping her. The neighbor says he can help himself to anything in the pile – he wanted nothing to do with any of it,
“[b]ut Theo, the sone of two diplomats, had been raised by the commandment that bad manners were a mortal sin. He had to at least pretend to look. There were some old paperbacks stuffed into a beer carton. He was always curious about what people read. He reached down to check the titlesPage 4
Ant was when he saw the horse.”
The horse was Lexington, a real, famous champion race horse. Lexington was trained by Jarret, though he never got to use that name. The novel’s chapters are named after the primary character of the section. Jarret goes by several names in the novel: Warfield’s Jarret, Ten Broeck’s Jarret, Alexander’s Jarret. until he gains his own surname, Jarret Lewis, at the end of the story. This subtle chapter naming is a telling arc of the lives of enslaved people. Although Jarret was a prime reason for Lexington’s success he never got the credit.
Meanwhile in the 21st century Theo connects with Jess who
“…loved the interior architecture of living things. Ribs, the protective embrace of them, how they hold delicate organs in a lifelong hug.”Page 5
Theo and Jess first meet in the opposite of a “meet cute” of a romantic comedy when she mistakenly accuses him of stealing her bike. Later they end up working together on reconstructing Lexington.
“It wasn’t his job to enlighten White people about their own racism. He’d made light of that bike incident, but it stung.”Page 168
Likewise, Jarret had his own troubling interactions with a white woman.
“Jarret dragged a hand across his scalp and looked at the girl. What did they want from him, these people? The girls face was scrunched unlike she had some kind of ague. Anyone think she was the one been sold away from her home and kin.”Page 144
The two men and the two women end up working together to each other’s benefit.
After my book reports on The Night Watchman and The Sentence by Louise Erdrich my friend Shannon recommended this book to me. All three novels work to show the struggles non-whites have in America. Having a studied indifference to horses I reluctantly picked up this book. I’m glad I did. It is more than an indictment of persistent racism; it is also an engaging story of people, art, physiology, and horse racing.