On the surface this looks like a book about horse racing and the Kentucky derby but don’t let the cover or blurb fool you. The is an epic American novel on the scale of Philipp Meyer’s The Son. It is a story of family, money and race and the everlasting consequences each leaves upon subsequent generations. It is a story about dreams and obsessions, love and revenge and a thoroughbred filly called Hellsmouth.
Central to the novel is the story of the Forge family. One of the wealthiest families in Kentucky that goes back to the time of slavery and has not changed much since it’s abolition. We meet Henry Forge as a young boy. His father is trying to teach him about the Forge fortune and the Forge world view, built upon crops and people. But Henry dreams about horses and becomes fascinated by horse breeding and the pursuit of perfection that is tested upon the racetracks of the nation. A dream that clashes with his father’s vision of the future. But Henry pursues his dream regardless, turning his father’s farm and property upside down upon his inheritance. But his pursuit of perfection is not so easily won. Twenty years on, and with his daughter now a part of the new family business, he is yet to produce a horse of note. That is until Hellsmouth, a horse that seems destined to win it all.
C.E. Morgan weaves into this tale to story of Allmon Shaughnessy. A young African-American man who has grown up in Cincinnati. He has grown up without his white father who is long gone and his mother battles with illness they cannot afford to properly treat. It is not long before Allmon is in trouble with the law. After spending time in prison, Allmon, now a grown man, is determined to turn his life around. His world is about to come crashing into the world of the Forges as he is hired as the new groom for Hellsmouth. When he and Henry’s daughter embark upon an illicit love affair the consequences are beyond devastating or tragedy. Henry Forge’s past and future collide with monumental and shocking ramifications.
This is an immense novel of family, history, class and greed by a writer of tremendous talent. Morgan’s use of language is a wonder to behold on its own but the way she builds the story up and the wraps layers around it is also quite amazing. This is a novel that will totally absorb you before dropping you on the seat of your pants in utter shock and awe with an ending you will never forget. If you loved Philipp Meyer’s The Son this is your next epic read!