This week, the Seattle Review of Books is sponsored by Sagging Meniscus Press. Sagging Meniscus publishes nonconformist fiction, poetry and literary nonfiction by American and other originals — including Doug Nufer, our poet of the month for May.
Horsebuggy, by Joshua Kornreich, is one of the press's most recent titles. After a nefarious-yet-revered mayor bans horse-drawn carriages in his city, a reclusive horse-and-buggy driver loses his job, his lover, and his unborn child. The desolate farm he has lived on his whole life deteriorates around him along with his sanity. But this lone wolf vows revenge.
With language lean and lyrical, and humor dark and grotesque, Kornreich’s Horsebuggy is a haunting portrait of what happens when man’s capacity for intimacy and acceptance is undermined by his more violent and sadistic impulses. It's also a tragic love story and a penetrating study of how we destroy ourselves as much with our moralism and self-righteousness as with our vice and self-indulgence.
Here's what other reviewers have to say:
Herein lies the tale of the crooked-nosed man—driver of a horse-drawn carriage, and Grace—his rain-soaked, bedraggled fare. Kornreich delivers to us the joy that comes to the lonely when love is found, and the anguish that ensues when love succumbs to suffering and, finally, to loss. And yet, for the crooked-nosed man, physical desire lives on, his unbridled lust to be satisfied only by the surviving object of his love, as reason unravels and he teeters toward lunacy. Told with stunning candor, Kornreich brings us an unforgettable tale of tragedy, exploring the depths of both compassion and depravity. Get ready for the wildest of rides.
— Pamela Ryder, Paradise Field
Horsebuggy roars along with comic verve, mythic gusto, and a tender, tangy take on equine affections. Joshua Kornreich’s exacting and entrancing prose rhythms provide momentum and delight. Climb up and take the ride.
— Sam Lipsyte, The Ask
This is what Citizen Kane would have been if instead of a newspaper magnate it would have given us a character not unlike Lester Ballard from Cormac McCarthy’s Child of God, and if Rosebud had been an aging horse instead of a sled. A funny, transgressive, and oddly humane novel in which each finely wrought sentence leads you into a place of more desperation.
— Brian Evenson, A Collapse of Horses
Check out the excerpt below, then buy a copy here.
Now don't go tellin Mama what you saw here, Junior. Let’s just keep this between you, me and the horse here. Believe you me, if there was anything really at all wrong with what I’ve done, I wouldn’t stop ya none from going on off and tellin her exactly what you saw, but believe you me, it’s just one of them things that looks worse than it really is, yessir. In fact, maybe when you’re a bit older, I’ll teach ya how to do it yourself. But right now, don’t get any bad ideas, cuz this sort of thing what ya just saw with me and the horse right here—that ain’t for little youngsters like yourself to, uh—what’s the word I’m lookin for?—engage in.
Ya see, this horse right here—she smart in some ways, but not so smart in others. I mean, if ya think about it a little bit, it’s kind of just like how us people are: we too are smart in some ways but not so much in others. But this horse right here—well, all our horses, for that matter—they don’t know what it was I was doing there with this horse right here. Or, maybe they do, but they don’t understand what grown-ups call implications, ya see. They just kind of sit there and eat grass or whatever they feel like putting in their mouths. For them, it’s just more about doing things to stay alive—like eatin grass and drinkin water. They don’t have to deal with the desires that get in the way and muss things up in their lives the way people have to. They don’t worry about money or pleasin the missus or even takin a bath, for that matter. I mean, do ya even think for a second that this mare right here even cares how she smells? Hell no. For her, it’s all about the next meal and the one after that.
I guess in some ways, that’s what I try to do for you, me and your mama—I’m thinkin about our next meal, about keepin up our home, our family. But when you’re a man like I am—which you will grow up to be someday—there are a lot of these unwanted desires in the way that trip ya up on what ya wanna get out of life, what ya wanna get for your family, ya catch me?
Oh, you’ll see for yourself someday, yessir. You’re probably sittin there thinkin the world is a straightforward place, but you’ll learn sooner or later that it isn’t. And maybe you seeing me with this here mare here the way you just saw me with her is your first glimpse that this life is not as straightforward and cut-and-dry as you might have once thought. There’s no real bad in this world. But there’s no real good in it neither. And what’s tragic about that is unlike dem horses that we have here on the farm, we let it get to us. Cuz believe me, I know, the thing you just saw with me and this here horse right here—that got to ya just the way it gets to me as I stand in front of ya here having to explain it to ya.
But I wanna tell ya somethin, son—and I’m gunna say this cuz you’re my boy and I know ya got some of me in you whether you like it or not. Okay, here it is: don’t worry about what others think of ya or what they’d think of ya if they were to know everything about ya. It’s easier said than done, yessir, but the more ya remind yourself of that the easier it will be to forgive yourself, and the easier it is to forgive yourself, the easier it will be to forgive others. And it takes a real man to do that—to forgive others as well as yourself—but, I’ll tell ya this, it’s the only way to live, son, the only way.
Heck, I know I drink too much. No one needs to tell me that. I know what everyone is sayin about me around town. Don’t think for a minute that I don’t know, cuz believe you me, I know. I know. I know. I know. And I know it must be rough on ya, son, having to hear what people say about your ole pa, never mind your mama. But I know my limitations. I know my vices. I know the errors of my ways. Not everyone sees that in themselves, but I see it in myself, yessir. And ya know what? And goddammit, Junior, do you wanna know what? I forgive myself for it. And cuz I forgive myself for it, I can forgive you and your mama for your sometimes—okay, here it goes—sinful ways. Think I don’t know about your mama and the men at the tavern? Think I don’t know what you’re doing, son, when I hear that bed of yours go squeak-squeak in the night when I come up the stairs? I know exactly what you’re doing, and I can probably imagine what you’re thinkin too when you’re going at it the way you’re going at it cuz, believe you me, I’ve thought of the same thing in my own head when I was a young boy, yessir.
But, son—son, it’s important that ya listen to me when I say this to ya: it’s not your fault. Ya hear? It ain’t your fault doing what you do up in that bedroom of yours just as it ain’t my fault what I just did with this mare right here. And, yes, while I know it probably still ain’t all right to do what I just did with her, knowin me, I’ll probably go off doing it again sometime somewhere down the road. And ya know what? I’m okay with that—yessir, I am.
Son—ya know what, son? In a weird sort of way I’m glad you saw what you saw cuz now you’ve learned something about your old man, about your-self, and about how the world works.
Yup, I said it: I’m glad.
But having said what I said, your mama—she’s a sensitive one, and we know how she can get about certain things. Ya see, women are a little different when it comes to understandin or not understandin certain things—but that’s a whole other discussion that we can have at a later date. But being that she is the sensitive type, I truly think it best if we kept what happened here, or what you saw happen here, between just you and me—or you and me and the horse here, anyway.
Hey, speaking of horses: our horse in question—I noticed she smelled a little funny. Would ya mind washing her up before heading back into the house? I think the bucket is over in the corner where the hose is.
I appreciate it, son. Good talking with ya. Glad we had this discussion.