Sunday, December 26, 2010

Christmas Present; Book review: Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

A pair of tiny feet, encased in red sleeping slippers, was outlined by the bedcovers. Her legs were crossed and entangled under a single coverlet, with the curve of her thighs enticingly revealed. Shih-chung was amazed that her thighs were so voluptuous and large. He stared at them thinking: "How hard it must be for tiny feet to support those thighs!" He couldn't help feeling compassion for her lower extremities. Compressing the feet in order to thicken the thighs must have been the invention of a genius. And of course the inventor must have been a woman...

You must have guessed by now that for Christmas, my beloved went back to the used bookstore and got me the copy of Chinese Footbinding: The History of a Curious Erotic Custom. B has become known in my family as the best gift-giver ever, and this is just more evidence. I love it, although it means for poor B that I am occasionally following him around, reading passages from the book. It's fascinating, with fairy tales and myths, personal accounts, folklore, scientific study, photographs and drawings, etc. And yes, there is a fair amount of eroticism within the pages. Why the bound foot (or Golden Lotus, as it is euphemistically known) is more lust-inducing than the breasts, for instance. (Apparently, one must mess around with the breasts and it is more difficult to get to the private parts; whereas, when one starts fondling a bound foot, it is a straight line to the private parts -- I paraphrase, but most accurately)

It has been a most taxing holiday season, and I'm glad to see the back end of Christmas. There have been some truly lovely moments, though, such as the lobster tails we steamed for dinner last night, and it's quite wintery out, though my sister in CT tells me the blizzard has failed to make an appearance as of yet. It was cold last night -- two-cats-cold, as both of them were curled between us. The dogs wanted up, too, but I explained that at 70+ pounds, there simply wasn't room. And today, we start back on a course of healthy eating, as we were before Christmas Eve. We're going out for sushi tonight. Unagi! Yeah!

So before I start end-of-the-year blatherings about where I'm going next with writing (later on this week, if I can tame my normal rambling and make it fit for you to read), a book review:

Lord of Misrule by Jaimy Gordon

When the National Book Award deadline was fast approaching -- as in, five days away -- Gordon's book arrived on the scene. And then, shocking nearly everyone, it won. The list of contenders is mighty, the story of the book's release and immediate win is one for the ages, and Gordon is a professor at a Michigan university. Aaaand the book is about racetrackin'. I had to get it, you can plainly see.

It would be too easy to fall into the trap of every other gushing reviewer and talk about "dark horses" and "longshots," so I'll avoid that. But unfortunately, I am falling into another trap. I can't help but compare it, again and again, to one of my very favorite books of all time, Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand. If this book has any flaws, it is only one: that it is not Seabiscuit.

This is completely unfair of me, I realize. I can only defend myself by saying that in the past ten years, I've read Seabiscuit three times, and each time is better than the last. I find the characters beyond fascinating, and the races drawn so well that I have, embarrassingly and more than once, found myself jumped up on the sofa, clutching an imaginary whip in my hand. GO, SEABISCUIT, GO!

(and no, I have not seen the film, nor do I want to, as I fear it will spoil it for me)

There are no such moments in LoM; however, that is not actually a fault. Gordon writes with deft, understated gorgeousness, nearly poetic and -- dare I say -- magical ability. This is a tale of losers, losers all around, horses and people, both. But never have such a cast of losers in such a pittyful backstage backwater dump been raised to the sublime.

I use "pittyful" on purpose. Gordon writes in the vernacular of the track, the language of these losers, and it gives her deep insight into them. That she pulls this off -- and in omniscient pov -- is a testament to her skill. This isn't hokey, this isn't pretentious. This is the real deal.

Watch Maggie watching everything and everyone, watch Medicine Ed make one last bet with powers bigger than him (and ain't everything bigger than him), watch Tommy Hansel invoke mad Irish gods in his pursuit of all that is rightfully his from birth. And watch some folks get what theys got coming. And others, not so much. And amongst it all, watch the noble horses living tragic, pittyful lives.

I tore apart Koja's Under the Poppy a while back. All I can say is that everything I hated about that book (including her filly's nervousness of The Sex Scene) is done here to perfection. This was a beautiful, thumpin' long ride down a muddy track.

But may I suggest that if you get this, you also get Seabiscuit. Just... read Seabiscuit second. They are vastly different stories, told vastly different ways, but for myself, I can say it was hard not to compare them.

1 comment:

  1. Does the footbinding book contain any *photographs* of bare bound feet? Because I have seen those, and I see nothing erotic about the reality *at all*. (In much the same way that I see nothing erotic about female circumcision.)