A strange title, I thought, but it turned out to be incredibly appropriate. I’d expect something like “The horse that. . .” or “The 19th Century Secretariat . . ” or something to point me in some direction or another. There is a particular horse in question, but you don’t know that at first. In fact, the first animal in the narrative is an elephant. Actually, an elephant skull. We are in the company of a lady named Jess, who works as a caretaker of sorts at the Smithsonian museum of natural history. It takes a while and a lot of unwrapping to discover that the skull is not that of an elephant, but of a horse. At this point, we believe that it will be Jess who leads us through the tale of this horse skull. I was looking forward to the story, since it would be my first foray into a novel about an equine skull. Jess investigates the provenance of this hunk of bone. She has the skull dated and discovers an anomaly in the cranium. The investigation eventually leads to a whole passel facts and folks that keeps readers spellbound throughout.
It’s hard to do an in-depth review of this book without spoilers, but I’ll do my best. Along with the story of Jess, her romance, and various other characters, we follow the life of the horse whose hide once covered the skull we discovered in the first few pages. Jess’s investigation leads her from present time all the way back to the antebellum south. We focus on an enslaved black jockey and his trainer-father. It isn’t long before all the racial strife and civil war conflicts imaginable boil around us readers. And very, very deftly, Brooks brings the past into the present. It shows us how completely idiotic it is to think that that war and those conflicts are behind us.
And all this because some humans become enamored of and tangled up with Horse. Horse does have a name, and it is rewarding to find what it is and where it came from. Read the novel and see if I’m not right. In the meantime, enjoy a fine novel by a very fine writer.