It might seem like a stretch that a story told from several different character’s perspective over the course of 200 years, while being based on historical figures, could touch poignantly on the modern human condition but Horse a novel by Gerladine Brooks manages to do just that.
We first meet Theo, a young Nigerian American man raised in Britain, in his Washington D.C. area apartment where he is observing the comings and goings of his neighbor across the street. He is working on an article for the Smithsonian magazine. His neighbor’s husband has passed away and she is leaving his things on the curb.
After helping the neighbor lift a heavy item, Theo sees a painting of a horse in the pile and decides, on a whim, to take it home with him.
Next, Jess, a young Australian woman living in Washington D.C. working as a scientist with the Smithsonian. She is tasked with helping a researcher from the England find an articulated skeleton of a famous race horse.
Our third main character is Jarret, an enslaved young man living in Kentucky in 1850. His father is a free man who trains horses and Jarrett works along side and forms a strong connection with one horse in particular – Darley.
The atmosphere of the imminent Civil War with its obvious race tensions provides the setting and we explore the mindset of the time through Jarrett’s experiences. However Brooks expertly weaves modern race issues into the stories of Theo and Jess who end up meeting while she is working with the skeleton and he is discovering the horse in his painting, both of which are Darley.
We are also introduced to the perspective of the painter from the 1850s who was able to capture Darley several times and ends up forming a bond with Jarrett over the course of Darley’s racing career. His voice helps to fill in elements of the story that Jarrett isn’t privy to as well as providing a perspective on slavery from an abolition leaning point of view.
Sometimes when novels feature different timelines and character’s perspectives I find myself being drawn to one more than the other. However in Horse I was completely engrossed in the page and loved discovering the parallels in the story.
The complexities of each character’s situation is expertly portrayed and we also experience how the characters endeavor to take care of themselves and those around them.
If you enjoyed Where The Crawdads Sing you’ll enjoy Horse.