Thursday November 18th, 2010

At the Wire, It’s Gordon

gordonJaimy Gordon’s Lord of Misrule was awarded the National Book Award for Fiction tonight. It’s the second time this year that a high-profile fiction award has gone to a previously very-low-profile novel. (Paul Harding’s Tinkers won the Pulitzer in April.)

I’m particularly eager to read Lord of Misrule because I’m a fan of horse racing, and Gordon’s novel is set at a fictional track in West Virginia. In the lead-up to the NBA announcement, Andrew Beyer raved about the book in the Daily Racing Form, not the usual place for fiction recommendations:

There are no triumph-of-the-underdog moments in author Jaimy Gordon’s book. Her mythical Indian Mound Downs is populated by infirm, battle-scarred old horses and the owners, grooms, and trainers who try to eke out a living with them. Some of the characters are noble, in their way, some deranged, some capable of murder and rape, but few of them harbor dreams much grander than winning a cheap race, collecting a small purse, and perhaps cashing a bet.

(Beyer, a Harvard graduate, has played a starring role in modern horse racing.)

In this interview with Gordon from “circa 1983,” which appeared in Gargoyle Magazine and featured the photo above, she was asked about the commercial prospects of a novel she was working on at the time, and her answer included this:

Now let me ask you a question. What do you mean by “commercial”? I suspect you mean marketable to trade presses, establishment publishing, New York, the big time. But all the novelists who publish with New York presses are hardly commercial in the financial sense of the word; often their books sell no more copies than they would with the older small presses.

Very true. And Gordon’s little-press book will now sell more than many giant-press offerings do. (A major publisher has already bought the paperback rights to Misrule as well as the rights to Gordon’s next book.) The Wall Street Journal was one of several outlets to note just how modest Gordon’s current publisher, McPherson & Co., is:

Bruce McPherson, publisher and owner, normally prints 2,000 copies of a new book. However, after the nomination was announced, Barnes & Noble alone wanted 2,000 copies. Mr. McPherson decided to print 8,000. “It’s a gamble that I’m not used to taking,” he said. . . . Back in 1974, the first book that he published was Ms. Gordon’s debut novel, Shamp of the City-Solo. Like her subsequent two novels, 1990’s She Drove Without Stopping and 1999’s Bogeywoman, it received good reviews but never found a large audience.

If Gordon’s win puts you in the mood for other books about the sport, I recommend William Nack’s Secretariat (now with unfortunate movie tie-in cover, but such is life), John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Blood Horses, and Joe Palmer’s This Was Racing, which I wrote about earlier this year.