cover image Keeneland


Alyson Hagy. Simon & Schuster, $23 (272pp) ISBN 978-0-684-85503-5

Even readers who don't give a dang about horses should love Hagy's fresh, funny, brilliantly made and irreducibly twangy debut, whose sassy but chronically unlucky heroine shows us the hardscrabble underside of the glitzy horseracing world--the lives of the itinerant workers who tend to the horses. Practically raised on horseback, 27-year-old Kerry Connolly goes back to her native Kentucky after her marriage to wealthy, abusive Eric Ballard sours. Now ""just another saddle-sore working girl boomeranging back to where she came from,"" Kerry goes to familiar Keeneland Stables with $10,000 she's filched from Eric. She also brings her unshakable longing for Sunny, the racehorse she had to abandon when she fled her marriage. Kerry recovers her old job at the stables, exercising horses preparing to race. Over the course of the novel, she manages to alienate three bosses, sleep her way into trouble, and win and lose $35,000, all the while crafting increasingly hopeless schemes to win back Sunny. Battered, broke and lonely, Kerry is a woman at rock-bottom, but she regards even her most dramatic misfortunes with enough wry wit to ensure her survival. Eking out a living on the fringes of a world that depends on high-stakes games of chance and calculation, Kerry comes to realize that life outside the track is also a bettor's sport. While Hagy mastered concise narrative in her two short story collections, Hardware River and Madonna on Her Back, here the plot tends to amble, and her conclusion lacks punch. Such objections dwindle, however, when measured against the great virtues of her prose, perfectly measured and rich as Kentucky bourbon. Agent, Gail Hochman at Brandt & Brandt. (Apr.)