Trigger Warning: This novel and review discuss the following: racism, sex, relationships, animal breeding, abuse.
Goodreads Rating: 2 Stars
The Sport of Kings won several literary awards, and I was positive it was going to be a knock out, 5 star read from me. After finding the novel at a local book sale (squee! a deal!) and then hearing it was the Speed Art Museum’s Speed Reading Book Club pick, I added it to my reading list to knock out before my favorite unofficial state holiday, Derby Day (*Which has since been rescheduled to September #thankscorona). I was truly hoping it would get me in the mood for racing season. (Of course, with the Derby now postponed, I guess I didn’t have to rush!)
I cracked the physical book open and started reading the first few pages of the 545 page book, and was promptly put off by the excessively verbose writing. I like detail, but I was slowly losing traction with my attention span while reading. When this starts to happen, I know it’s time to switch mediums- so I downloaded the audiobook.
This was better, as I let the grandiose writing wash over me, and was able to pick out the interesting bits of the plot-lines as they came to me. Readers are introduced to Henry Forge, a wealthy, racist son of a farmer. Forge Farms is locally well known, and Henry’s ancestors helped settle the area, so entitlement masked as pride is passed down throughout the generations. When Henry’s mother is cast out for sleeping with a black servant, Forge family racism is also passed down.
As Henry ages, he becomes fascinated with the sport of kings- horse racing. He declares that he will turn the family farm into a horse farm when he inherits it- and so he does. He starts a racing empire, and bears a daughter that he names after himself- Henrietta- and shows her everything she needs to know about how to run the family operation. Although she has Henry for a father, she becomes a fine horsewoman, but her looks and success intimidate all the suitable men. Naturally, she starts a love affair with a black man and rebels against her father.
Oh, also, all of this takes place from the 1960s to 2006.
As the cringe-worthy plot began to come together and the horse racing became a backdrop, there seemed to be another round of new characters and another plot-line forming. When I’m 250-ish pages into a book, new characters are such a turnoff. So, I decided to DNF the audiobook at 48%.
While I can respect Morgan’s ambitious writing (as she was in her twenties when she wrote it) and her determination to shed a spotlight on the historical side of horse racing, I felt completely uncomfortable reading The Sport of Kings. It blew my mind that this book was set in modern times, as it reads like something from the mid-1800s. There are so many racial slurs and comments that degrade women- and while we have certainly come a long way towards that in the past century, there probably was a lot of historical accuracy in it. However, that doesn’t make me want to read it in 2016 (when the book was originally published) or 2020. The writing style alienated me, I completely disliked the main characters, and the plot was so convoluted that it was difficult to enjoy anything I was reading. It was a major disappointment.
Published: May 3, 2016
Publisher: Knopf Canada
TL/DR: The Sport of Kings is about a horse-racing family saga set in Kentucky.
Read it? NOPE.
Recommend it? NOPE.
Buy it? NOPE. As it is, I don’t even want to pass the copy I have along!
For BETTER horse-racing related reads:
- Kentucky Derby Reading Recommendations