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Horse Heaven [Paperback]

JANE. SMILEY
3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)

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Book by Jane Smiley

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Beyond Dick Francis� Sept. 22 2003
Format:Paperback
While Jane Smiley's Horse Heaven is no simple whodunit, it does take on the mystery of the attachment of humans to horses. There's no real answer, other than that it is a lifetime obsession. Some are inspired, some are ruined, and some are saved by the love and devotion to these animals.
I was a little overwhelmed at the beginning of the book - all these threads pulling at once, trying to keep the connections straight - even the chapter on Eileen the Jack Russell Terrier - but as time went on, those threads caught.
Characters that seemed to have nothing in common with each other came together in strange or serendipitous ways, enriching the plot and driving it forward. The breezy style of writing is fun, and each chapter moves to a new character in the list, so that you begin to see how it all overlaps. You see how much emotion is invested - not just in the animals but also in the relationships with all the other humans involved. Each plays a special role: the breeder, the trainer, the jockeys, and of course, the owners. And while I wasn't sure about the idea of the horses 'speaking', it made sense once you were on your way.
I never gave much thought to the world of racing, other than the few days before the Derby. However, I find myself contemplating a trip to the track, just so that I can watch these magnificent animals do what Horse Heaven seems to be sure of - the beauty of running.
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5.0 out of 5 stars not just for horse lovers Jan. 27 2003
Format:Paperback
Like many women, I went through a horsey phase as a girl, but mine was mild-- I drew them incessantly for a while, and enjoyed my riding lessons at summer camp. I've never gotten into horse books, and I'd never have read this one had it not been a book club pick.
Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be one of my favorite reads of 2002, and one of my favorite books! The world of horse racing and trading is one Smiley knows inside and out, and she doesn't insult our intelligence by overexplanation-- she immerses the reader in it.
With an unusual structure and multiple protagonist that centers more around the horses then the people, this book is Tolstoyan in its scope, warmth and humanity (and that includes the outlook on the horses)
There are lots of characters and horses, but all are memorable. Generously drawn with some passages so thought-provoking, even profound, that I underlined and dated. Smiley tells a great story, but the pleasure is as much in her prose and her revelations (a passage about happiness being something that shimmers around you brought me up short)
It's a big book-600 pages-but a real epic, and worth it. Smiley manages to do the pov of a couple of the horses without ever becoming maudlin and anthropomorphic. There's a horse psychic who describes how the horse sees the world beneath its feet as if rolling in waves-- what an arresting vision of what it must be like to move so fast on four feet. One of the characters finds herself inexplicably able to grant wishes for awhile. The book has elements of magic realism in the best tradition-- handled casually, as just another part of life.
Through the journeys of the main horses we see vignettes of owners, traders, gamblers, riders-- all handled with humanity and heart.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A Good Read, but Frustrating Nov. 16 2002
Format:Paperback
I have to agree with other reviewers that the sheer number of characters and story lines introduced at the beginning of the book was overwhelming and frustrating. Just when you start to care about a character and get interested in one part of the story line you were off in another direction and following the thread of three or four other characters' stories. This was a frustration I experienced with Michener's writings too but I found the difference was that Michener always rewarded me by wrapping all the threads into one satisying whole by the end of the book. This did not happen for me with Horse Heaven; the ending felt very unsatisfying and incomplete. If you are a fast reader (i.e., if you regularly read one or more books a week) I recommend this book for the beautiful quality of the writing and the wealth of fascinating characters. I also recommend it to anyone who really loves horses. For anyone just looking for a fast and fun read about the world of horse racing, you'll enjoy a Dick Francis mystery more.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Enjoyable read, almost great July 5 2002
Format:Paperback
I will assume you have learned about the story from the other reviews and won't bother repeating it. Overall, Jane Smiley is one of the most gifted writers of our times and the story flows smoothly. With a strong sense of irony and humor, the book is a pleasure to read and impossible to put down. Its has two flaws that keep it one step short of perfection - the vast number of characters and the ending. There are simply too many characters and stories to keep them straight - especially if reading the book a chapter at a time over a few weeks. Some of these add to the background but would have been better off editing out entirely, leaving more space to focus on the primary characters and stories. The ending seems abrupt - we seem well seet up at the beginning to build up to Breeder's Cup or Triple Crown with a set of horses and their people in competition against each other. But that never happens and we get to the end of the third year and the book stops except for a few pages of epilogue. I assume that Smiley is doing this for a point, and that this is the fundamental point of the book - that most horses, even ones with great prospects and breeding never get to the great races for one reason or another. But the story would have had a more traditional build-up and satisfying ending if even two of them ended up competing against each other in a big race.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Heavenly
As a rider and owner myself, I usually shy away from horse related novels because the inaccuracy annoys me. Read more
Published on June 8 2004 by Wynnie
5.0 out of 5 stars Horse Heaven
Horse Heaven is well paced novel about the thoroughbred horse racing industry. Jane Smiley skillfully relates her intimate knowledge of the business and it's eclectic owners,... Read more
Published on Dec 4 2003
1.0 out of 5 stars Enough is enough
This is possibly the most boring, uneventful, horrible book that I have had the misfortune to come across. The endless parade of new characters was mind-numbing and tedious. Read more
Published on Aug. 25 2003 by "thisisatestoftakennicknames"
5.0 out of 5 stars Horse Heaven a Heavenly Read
This is such a lovely, entertaining, fascinating, moving book that I hated to finish it. I got so fond of all the characters (including the horses) and wanted to continue to track... Read more
Published on May 8 2003 by shelley isom
5.0 out of 5 stars A True Desert Island Classic
This is a book you'd pick for a desert island classic. There is so much here about human nature and horse nature to ponder. Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2002 by M. Tarman
2.0 out of 5 stars This was very boring
I've read other Jane Smiley works that I've loved (A Thousand Acres, Moo) but I bought this booked based on the positive reviews that I read in Amazon and I must say that this is... Read more
Published on Aug. 5 2002
2.0 out of 5 stars I only borrowed this book because it was about horse racing
and I've been a racing fan for about 25 years now. If I could've edited this book, it would only be half as long. Read more
Published on July 17 2002 by DawnStorm
5.0 out of 5 stars Simply Sublime
"Horse Heaven" should still be on the best-seller list. The book was recommended to me by a friend this past Christmas, and am I glad I got it. Read more
Published on April 20 2002 by Joan Minor
4.0 out of 5 stars Equine fun!
Jane Smiley's best book is probably A THOUSAND ACRES. I had trouble with it. I guess because of the V.C. Andrews incest theme. Read more
Published on March 18 2002 by Dave Schwinghammer
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