They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?

They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? ★

by Horace McCoy

shoot horsesI know I must be missing something here, but I just don’t get why this has endured as a profound piece of classic American literature. Apparently 1930s French Existentialists went gaga over it and Simone de Beauvoir named it as “the first existentialist novel to have appeared in America”. So if you are a literary theorist, and get off on those labels and how they come to mean something to a certain group of people during a certain period of time, then you probably want to read this book and are going to think it’s pretty important.

As for myself, I was bored senseless. I didn’t know what to expect going in (having never seen the movie), but somehow I had the words horror and dystopia clanging around in my head. I was neither horrified nor presented with a gripping dystopian landscape. The concept is appealing I give you that — an idea redolent with potential: a marathon dance in the dirty ’30s that exploits and capitalizes on participant despair and desperation. The dancers dance because they have no other options. Guess that’s what got the French Existentialists all worked up.

In the introduction to this 2010 edition Gloria Beatty is described as driving the story:

with a tremendous negative energy that wells up from her understanding that the world – her world, the world that plays out beneath the Hollywood sign – is one of amorality and illusion.

She is also described as a complete nihilist. ::yawn:: Nihilists piss me off. It’s too easy to hate everything and everyone and only see the hypocrisy and cruelty in the world.

So the themes are “big” in this book, I get it, and I get why certain people would be attracted to it and want to talk about these big themes (I went to grad school with some of you), but not I sir for this very simple reason; I hate “big” ideas (insert jazz hands here) that don’t come wrapped in a gripping story that’s going to smack me in the face and wake me up. Story. Comes. First. Always. You may be brilliant and have awesome insights into the human condition, but unless you can weave a tale that’s going to put me on my ass I don’t want to hear about it. And I’m not helping you along by faking it When Harry Met Sally Style pretending you wrote a great novel because I’m keen to wax poetic on how the world is shit and then we die.

I think what really pissed me off is this review on which writes:

it’s McCoy’s Horses that…so beautifully reflects the darkest side of the Depression days in the U.S., even more so than Steinbeck’s wonderful The Grapes of Wrath. McCoy gets to the very core of human desperation and misery, a cutthroat atmosphere where people will resort to ANYTHING just to survive.

Excuse me?! First of all, unlike Steinbeck, McCoy doesn’t come close to accomplishing any of that and second of all, comparing this short, painful, pretentious book to one of the greatest novels ever written is JUST SO WRONG. Epic delusions of grandeur my friend and They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Epic fail.

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