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They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (Serpent's Tail Classics) Paperback – 4 Nov 2010


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Product details

  • Paperback: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Serpent's Tail (4 Nov. 2010)
  • Language: French
  • ISBN-10: 184668739X
  • ISBN-13: 978-1846687396
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 12.7 x 19.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 121,811 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

Sordid, pathetic, senselessly exciting ... has the immediacy and the significance of a nerve-shattering explosion (New Republic)

Were it not in its physical details so carefully documented, it would be lurid beyond itself (Nation)

Language is not minced in this short novel which presents life in its most brutal aspect (Saturday Review of Literature)

The first existentialist novel to have appeared in America (Simone de Beauvoir)

A brilliant, bitter, wonderful portrait of mother and daughter, artist and lover (Kirkus)

Horace McCoy shoots words like bullets (Time)

A spare, bleak parable about American life, which McCoy pictured as a Los Angeles dance marathon in the early thirties ... full of the kind of apocalyptic detail that both he and Nathanael West saw in life as lived on the Hollywood fringe (New York Times)

Captures the survivalist barbarity in this bizarre convention, and becomes a metaphor for life itself: the last couple on their feet gets the prize (Independent)

I was moved, then shaken by the beauty and genius of Horace McCoy's metaphor (Village Voice)

It's the unanswerable nature of the whydunnit that ensures the book's durability (booklit.com)

Takes the reader into one of America's darkest corners ... The story has resonance for contemporary America and the current craze for reality television. How far are we from staging a dance marathon for television? (readywhenyouarecb.com)

This almost sadistically frank pulp fiction from 1935 will cure anyone of the delusion that earlier generations didn't know the score. With murder, incest, abortion, and the like generously added to a plot about people entertaining themselves by watching the misery of others, it's like one of these eliminationist "reality" television shows (Survivor, Big Brother, etc.) as conceived by the creative team of Thomas Hobbes and Charles Darwin. These lives are indeed nasty, brutish, and short. It doesn't make for a pretty story, but you have to admire the zeal and energy with which Horace McCoy drives his point home (Brothersjudd.com)

A sharply-honed novella... Brilliant (Val Hennessy Daily Mail 2010-11-12)

A classic novel about hardscrabble survival in 1930s Depression-era America (The Times 2010-11-06)

America's first existential novel (Evening Standard 2010-11-18)

And finally, showing the modern writers how it's done... the 1930s existentialist noir classic... it's a breathtaking piece of storytelling that is still thrillingly relevant today. (Doug Johnstone Big Issue 2010-11-15)

Forget Raymond Chandler and his overrated ilk - Horace McCoy's 1935 novel is the best example of American noir ever written... it is an extraordinary achievement and every bit as shocking and moving today as it must have been for its original readers. Gripping from the beginning - when we are given to understand that the narrator is being condemned to death for an unknown crime - it's the story of two losers stumbling endlessly round a grotty Hollywood ballroom in a grotesque and ultimately futile struggle for survival. The characters are both more, and less, than human, the writing is tersely perfect, and the ending almost unbearably moving. (Laura Wilson Guardian 2010-11-27)

The brutality of the story is offset by the poetic beauty and precision of the narrative... In our world of fleeting reality TV stardom, this stark, urgent novel feels more timely than ever. (Anita Sethi Observer 2011-04-24)

A typographically innovative drama... A heartbreaking existentialist fable about a gruelling marathon dance contest... the tale assumes the weight of Greek tragedy... a masterpiece. (Christopher Fowler Independent on Sunday 2011-08-21)

Book Description

Cult American noir now a Serpent's Tail Classic

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4.6 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By daisyrock on 2 May 2009
Format: Paperback
I suppose it could be said that the beauty of this little novel lies in its brevity. In that sense it's a 'little gem' - short, but packed with big themes and emotions. But for me, it was a little too skimpy to get across some of the weight of its ideas. By then end of a marathon dance I expected to feel something of the contestants' almost dead weight - their desperation and fear (just look at the image on Jane Fonda on the cover, taken from the movie!), but other than Gloria, they all seemed fairly lively and together. There was little sense of an irreversible slide towards disaster. And this in part is why I found the protagonist's sudden change from chirpy mr-nice-guy to perpetrator of desperate acts rather unconvincing. That said, I did like the book and felt it had a lot to say - particularly about the nature of real financial meltdown and what it does to people. Quite timely messages.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Sam Quixote TOP 50 REVIEWER on 14 Nov. 2012
Format: Paperback
Gloria is a burned out wannabe actress in 1930s Hollywood who, after failing to win a dance marathon (dancing for literally weeks on end) asks her dance partner Robert to shoot her in the head - which he does. This isn't a spoiler as it's the framing device of the novel with Robert telling the reader at the start of the book as he stands in the dock being sentenced by the judge of how he came to meet Gloria and of their time in the hellish carnival atmosphere of the dance marathon.

Dance marathons were popular forms of entertainment in 1920s and 30s America where couples, often strangers to one another, desperate for cash and food because of the Great Depression (they were given regular meals and a roof over their heads while they were in the competition) would enter. The rules were they had to keep moving (not necessarily dancing, just moving) for 1 hour 50 minutes and then allowed a 10 minute break. Often the couples would take turns sleeping on one another as the sheer exhaustion welled up over the oftentimes weeks-long endurance contest.

Strangely, this book reminded me of "The Hunger Games": the dance marathon is a sadistic endurance test watched by crowds of people starved for entertainment and lucky couples are sponsored by companies and given food and clothes as a result. It's kind of a lo-fi "Hunger Games" except the dance marathons were real.

Horace McCoy uses the dance marathon as a pessimistic metaphor for life, resembling the kind of miserable existence most people experienced in Depression-era America shuffling through life barely surviving, utterly fatigued, and watched by indifferent strangers until they collapsed, unable to go on with no reward for their effort.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Cynthia on 28 May 2012
Format: Paperback
"...she died in agony, friendless, alone..."

Thus the book begins...It's the 1930's right outside Hollywood in Santa Monica California and yet another version of the marathon dance craze is being enacted. Two Hollywood hopefuls, Gloria and Robert, happen upon one another and decide to team up, after all there's a $1,000 prize to the last couple standing. So begins this tortured story. It's one of struggle reflective of the depression. The couples are required to stay in motion with a ten minute rest break every so often and meals eaten standing up but a free meal is a free meal! There's a creepy zoo like feel as an audience gathers to watch the couples in the center. Robert longs to see the sun but is prodded back into the building by his keepers; Gloria is in despair and keeps saying she wants to die. Nerves become more and more frazzled.

The 70's movie starring Jane Fonda as Gloria might even be better than the book. Though there is much license taken with the book, the movie is more overt in the theme of struggle and the dichotomy between the rich vs. poor during the depression, it's still incredibly well done and worth watching. Sadly it seems relevant to our contemporary situations in many ways. McCoy however, gives a wider palette of emotions and issues in his writing. He emphasizes the morality of the character's actions. It has sub themes such as who is a criminal, is it ever moral to kill and if so in what situation(s)? McCoy also touches on the exploitation of people especially of women. Last is the theme of reconciling the childhood heartbreaks and the values they've inherited from those early sorrows and how people carry that pain into adulthood. As I'm sure you gathered both from McCoy's title and my reactions to his book this isn't a feel good experience but it's well worth taking the time to read this vintage story.

This review was based on an egalley provided by the publisher.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By J. H. Bretts VINE VOICE on 8 Nov. 2010
Format: Paperback
This brilliantly structured short novel - which I read in a few intensive sittings - has never been out of print since it was first published in 1935. What is amazing is that although it is of its time - set in Santa Monica in the Depression era - it is as relevant now in the age of global recession, X-factor celebrity and ubiquitous advertising as it ever was and it is written in a terse but lyrical style that really hasn't dated at all. This new edition comes with an excellent introduction by British crime writer John Harvey and a short afterward about its author,Horace McCoy.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 22 May 2001
Format: Paperback
i would recommend this book/play to any actors, directors, or even historians. it shows the pain, suffering and desperation felt by those that entered the dance marathons, the levels by which they slowly degraded themselves furthur and furthur - starting out with just dancing for money, then getting scruffier and scruffier, giving less of a damn about their appearance and eventually being used as advertisements by rich people who come to watch them, for 'entertainment'. this book is well worth reading, it contains amusing, emotional and disgraceful moments. you won't be able to put it down - i certainly couldn't!
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