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on 6 December 2014
An absolute fantastic read. I didn't like the film but the book made excellent reading.
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on 14 May 2017
Amazing, must read
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on 2 May 2009
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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on 14 November 2012
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. This bleak outlook and sensational ending made McCoy a popular writer among the existentialist crowd with Satre and Beauvoir praising McCoy's novel as "the first existentialist American novel".

The one complaint I would have is the arbitrary ending. After getting to know the narrator over the course of this short novel, it seemed to me that he was a decent sort, optimistic and cheerful - to have him suddenly shoot Gloria just to "put her out of her misery" seemed out of character. He compares her to a horse with a broken leg which is just weird. It didn't detract from my enjoyment of the novel, it just felt a bit contrived and forced rather than convincing and natural.

For such a short novel, McCoy manages to cover a lot of ground, detailing the dance marathon craze along with shades of existentialism, the exploitation of women, the effects of the Depression, and the desperate culture of Hollywood. "They Shoot Horses, Don't They?" is a morbidly fascinating glimpse into a forgotten cultural event from America's past written in a taut noir style mixed in with a dark and entrancing murder story with a twist. It's brilliant and is as interesting to read today as it must have been back in the 30s. Definitely worth looking into for fans of unusual fiction.
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on 28 May 2012
"...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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VINE VOICEon 8 November 2010
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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on 22 May 2001
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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on 18 October 2013
They Shoot Horses, Don't They? has to be one of America's greatest novels. Horace McCoy depicts the dance marathons of the thirties with incredible poignance.
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on 30 July 2015
short sweet with a simple message. Not quite sure how relevant it still is these days but a good reflection on days gone past none the less.
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on 7 October 2014
I only knew this from the film, but the book is a true classic. What a great idea; what a great title!!
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