Allow me to compare this novel to a horse. It’s large, majestic, impressive, stately. Many times, however, it more closely resembles a Clydesdale than the Forge’s racing thoroughbreds- powerful but less sleek than clunky and plodding. I had this rated as high as a 4 at some points and as low as a 2 at others, which speaks to its inconsistency, mostly in pace. There were times I was so engaged and impressed with Morgan’s skill in writing this novel while other times I felt like I was slogging through a river of peanut butter.
Her talent is evident throughout- she somehow turns the startup horse-breeding farm of a single family into a monumental Greek tragedy. She makes what on paper is a slight story about a sport I don’t really care about into an epic as expansive as America itself. She also confidently, boldly gives unique, believable voices to each of her diverse characters and makes each of them fascinating, even many of the secondary characters. The three main characters, Henry, Henrietta, and Allmon are all sufficiently studied on their own before they crash into each other, but I was disappointed to find that once they all came together I liked them better in isolation.
One criticism I can make of Morgan is that she comes dangerously close to over-writing. The pages are wrought with symbolism and soliloquy and it tends to escape her grasp. Regardless, this is only her second novel and I can appreciate that it deserves its Pulitzer nomination even if I didn’t love it completely.