Skip to main content

Horse

Review

Horse

Pulitzer Prize winner Geraldine Brooks’ latest novel, HORSE, is an intriguing examination of enduring prejudices past and present. Split between two major time periods --- the 19th-century American South and 2019 Washington, D.C. --- along with a brief stopover in mid-20th-century New York City, the bookaddresses the overt and covert currents of racism pervading society throughout history.

The first narrative thread follows Jarret, an enslaved young Black man expertly skilled in horses who occupies an uneasy place in the world governed by his enslaver, Dr. Elisha Warfield. Jarret is close with his father, the formerly enslaved trainer Harry, and is treated with careless friendship by the young lady of the house --- without taking into account the trouble this might put him in.

"Brooks vividly illustrates the bond between the young man and the horse in a way that brings to life Jarret’s knowledge of animal husbandry and meticulous care for the creature."

But when a talented young horse eventually called Lexington is born on Warfield’s farm, Jarret becomes inextricably linked to the thoroughbred’s fate --- so much so that, when the colt is sold to another owner, so, too, is Jarret. No matter how much his enslavers profess to care for him or the cause of anti-slavery, they tolerate it and treat him as beneath their ultimate regard.

Parallel to this story is that of Theo, a brilliant arts graduate student at Georgetown University. Micro and macro aggressions interweave almost every aspect of his life that we see, from discussions with his neighbors to his first meeting with Australian curator Jess. That last awkward encounter peppers Theo’s growing personal and professional bond with Jess as they discover more about Lexington’s skeleton and a portrait depicting Jarret and the horse. One realizes that, as much as she tries, Jess can never understand the complexities and tragedies that Theo faces…especially as the novel reaches its tragic climax.

Brooks vividly illustrates the bond between the young man and the horse in a way that brings to life Jarret’s knowledge of animal husbandry and meticulous care for the creature. However, as she depicts not just the dangers of overt racism but also the effects of the “well-meaning” disregard of “kind” white people and how that endangers Black lives past and present, readers may wonder if Brooks is questioning her own narrative authority. She appears to be asking if she, too, is yet another “well-meaning” white writer telling Black stories. This is a good question, but one that she doesn't answer or use to elevate Black voices.

By taking a whole book to explore the privileges of white characters throughout the ages --- and, by extension, her own --- Brooks encourages her white audience to examine their own. What she stops short of, though, is demanding that they do something about it. That, instead, is up to the reader.

Reviewed by Carly Silver on July 1, 2022

Horse
by Geraldine Brooks

  • Publication Date: June 14, 2022
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: Viking
  • ISBN-10: 0399562966
  • ISBN-13: 9780399562969