cover image Kick the Latch

Kick the Latch

Kathryn Scanlan. New Directions, $17.95 trade paper (128p) ISBN 978-0-8112-3461-0

Scanlan’s inventive debut novel (after the collection The Dominant Animal) documents a woman’s hardscrabble yet jubilant life and her dedication to working with racehorses. Shaped from interview transcripts with a real-life trainer named Sonia (no last name given), Scanlan’s vignettes carry readers across the arc of Sonia’s life, from her Iowa home to a nearby barn, where Sonia keeps her beloved first horse, Rowdy—“He taught me trust. He taught me not to trust too much. I learned to be a little leery”—to the South Dakota racetrack where she makes her name as a trainer, and further on, from Florida to Churchill Downs. Sonia describes the duties of racetrack roles in fascinating and surprising detail: mucking stalls (at a Florida breeder’s, she learns that expensive horses are never to be in the stall with their own excrement), icing legs, injecting drugs, and caring for oneself after inevitable injuries. But the most beautiful moments are quiet ones, in which Sonia processes the choices she and others have made, and of the consequences she faces in a field dominated by men. With this sharp and lovely tribute to a singular woman, Scanlan continues to impress. (Sept.)