Synopses & Reviews
New York Times 100 Notable Books of 2016
NPR Best Books of 2016
Hellsmouth, an indomitable Thoroughbred with the blood of Triple Crown winners in her veins, runs for the glory of the Forge family, one of Kentucky’s oldest and most powerful dynasties. Henry Forge has partnered with his daughter, Henrietta, in an endeavor of raw obsession: to breed the next superhorse, the next Secretariat. But when Allmon Shaughnessy, an ambitious young black man, comes to work on their farm, the violence of the Forges’ history and the exigencies of appetite are brought starkly into view. Entangled in fear, prejudice, and lust, the three tether their personal dreams of glory to the speed and grace of Hellsmouth.
A spiraling tale of wealth and poverty, racism and rage, The Sport of Kings is an unflinching portrait of lives cast in shadow by the enduring legacy of slavery. C. E. Morgan, who received a 2016 Windham–Campbell Prize for Fiction, has given life to a tale as mythic and fraught as the South itself—a moral epic for our time.
Morgan’s enjoyable if overwritten novel about horse racing is at heart a story about parents and children. In 1965 Henry Forge scion of a powerful white Kentucky dynasty defies his tyrannical father’s wishes by turning their corn farm into a horse farm where he hopes to turn out thoroughbred racers. Set around the year 2007 Henry’s equally headstrong daughter Henrietta defies her father by hiring a black ex con named Allmon Shaughnessy to work in the stables. Raised in Cincinnati by a well meaning single mother suffering from Lupus Allmon drifted into petty crime at an early age. Now he is trying to make a new start at Forge Run Farm where Henry and Henrietta have pinned all their hopes on Hellsmouth a thoroughbred filly from an historic bloodline. Henry having inherited his father’s belief in the inferiority of the black race does everything possible to stop the growing attraction between Allmon and his daughter but fate has a shocking destiny in store for them. The novel starts strong out of the gate with Henry Henrietta and Allmon each getting nearly 100 pages for his or her own immersive backstory then blows it in the backstretch with a series of melodramatic incidents that undermines the care with which Morgan (All the Living) has created these larger than life characters. However fans of Jane Smiley’s Horse Heaven and Jaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule will appreciate the novel’s authentically pungent shed row atmosphere as ultimately satisfying as a mint julep on Derby Day. (May)" Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved."
“Morgan’s storytelling abilities match her deep characterization — part of which is that she’s a writer of real virtuosity, and the narrative includes some of her set-piece “lessons,” mock interviews, synthetic parables, and a retelling of the Eden myth in the style of Uncle Remus... Her concerns are Faulknerian in scope.” Madison Smartt Bell, Boston Globe
“Remarkable achievements... The Sport of Kings hovers between fiction, history, and myth, its characters sometimes like the ancient ones bound to their tales by fate, its horses distant kin to those who drew the chariot of time across the sky... Novelists can do things that other writers can’t—and Morgan can do things that other novelists can’t... Tremendous, the work of a writer just starting to show us what she can do.” Kathryn Shultz, New Yorker
About the Author
C. E. Morgan lives with her husband, Will Guild, in Berea, Kentucky. She is the author of All the Living.