Horse is set in three time periods. The historical spine of the book is based on the true story of the remarkable racehorse, Lexington, whose blistering speed drew crowds of more than twenty thousand to the track and riveted the attention of the nation, even as the country was sliding towards Civil War. Like most of the great horses of the period, Lexington’s success relied on the skills of Black horsemen, many of whom were enslaved. Brooks vividly captures the growing risks faced by these men and the horses they cared for as war sweeps through the South. Lexington was painted many times during his long career. One portrait wound up in a 1980s bequest to the Smithsonian from a radical art dealer named Martha Jackson, a champion of edgy contemporary painters such as Jackson Pollock. That painting and its mysterious provenance brings the novel to bohemian New York in the 1950s and an art world roiled by exciting new means of expression. Meanwhile, in contemporary Washington DC, a scientist at the Smithsonian rediscovers the significance of a skeleton specimen simply labelled “Horse,” while an art historian tries to learn more about the Black horsemen so vividly portrayed with their charges in nineteenth century American equestrian art. Even as they puzzle over these past mysteries, their legacy unexpectedly ensnares them.
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