The Sport of Kings (Hardcover)

By C. E. Morgan

Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 9780374281083, 560pp.

Publication Date: May 3, 2016

May 2016 Indie Next List

“Horse racing and breeding, evolution, race, love, family dynamics, and America's historical past are a few of the subjects and issues that Morgan bravely, confidently, and intelligently explores with a poetic and lyrical sensibility. The result is a gorgeous and engaging novel that is sobering, important, and unforgettable. In addition to her singular vision and style, Morgan combines some of the intense power of the landscape-as-mindscape of Thomas Wolfe, the dramaturgy and myth-mining of Eugene O'Neill, the deep focus and rigor of Richard Powers, the transcendent beauty of Vollmann's best prose, and the strong spiritual commitment of Marilynne Robinson. The Sport of Kings unfolds dramatically into an exquisite work of classic American literature.”
— Ed Conklin (M), Chaucer's Books, Santa Barbara, CA
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Description

A Finalist for the Pulitzer Prize

Winner of the Kirkus Prize for Fiction - A Recipient of the Windham-Campbell Prize for Fiction - A Finalist for the James Tait Black Prize for Fiction - A Finalist for the Baileys Women's Prize for Fiction - A Finalist for the Rathbones Folio Prize - Longlisted for an Andrew Carnegie Medal for Excellence - One of New York Times Book Review 100 Notable Book

Named a Best Book of the Year by Entertainment Weekly - GQ - The New York Times (Selected by Dwight Garner) - NPR - The Wall Street Journal - San Francisco Chronicle - Refinery29 - Booklist - Kirkus Reviews - Commonweal Magazine

"In its poetic splendor and moral seriousness, The Sport of Kings bears the traces of Faulkner, Morrison, and McCarthy. . . . It is a contemporary masterpiece."--San Francisco Chronicle

Hailed by The New Yorker for its "remarkable achievements," The Sport of Kings is an American tale centered on a horse and two families: one white, a Southern dynasty whose forefathers were among the founders of Kentucky; the other African-American, the descendants of their slaves.

It is a dauntless narrative that stretches from the fields of the Virginia piedmont to the abundant pastures of the Bluegrass, and across the dark waters of the Ohio River; from the final shots of the Revolutionary War to the resounding clang of the starting bell at Churchill Downs. As C. E. Morgan unspools a fabric of shared histories, past and present converge in a Thoroughbred named Hellsmouth, heir to Secretariat and a contender for the Triple Crown. Newly confronted with one another in the quest for victory, the two families must face the consequences of their ambitions, as each is driven---and haunted---by the same, enduring question: How far away from your father can you run?

A sweeping narrative of wealth and poverty, racism and rage, The Sport of Kings is an unflinching portrait of lives cast in the shadow of slavery and a moral epic for our time.



About the Author

C. E. Morgan lives with her husband, Will Guild, in Berea, Kentucky. She is the author of All the Living.


Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com

  1. The Sport of Kings opens with a question that resounds throughout the story: “How far away from your father can you run?” Later, Henry Forge reflects, “That was the game of youth, wasn’t it—murdering one’s father?” (p. 312) Henry, Henrietta, and Allmon Shaughnessy all rebel against their fathers’ identities and values. How far away does each of them ultimately manage to run? What impact do their mothers have, present and absent?
  2. John Henry Forge mixes learning with cruelty, arrogance, and isolation as he fashions an education for his son, Henry. How do Henry’s lessons with his father compare to his teaching of Henrietta? And how does this compare with what Allmon learns during his time in juvenile detention? (p. 269)
  3. When teaching Henrietta about Thoroughbreds, Henry says, “Evolution is a ladder, and our aim is to climb it as quickly as possible.” (p. 105) There are many references to ladders throughout the book. What might these signify beyond Henry’s understanding of evolution?
  4. Unlike the Forges, Jamie Barlow, Ginnie Miller, Penn, and Lou, the veterinarians are not wealthy or powerful. They speak a plain language about a simple world, thereby offering comfort, relief, and sanctuary. What wisdom do they try to convey to Henry and Henrietta? How do they compare with the nonfamilial influences in Allmon’s life?
  5. When Henry is at last free of his father, letting the Forge farm go fallow so he can plant clover and raise horses, does he break free of the past or is he somehow perpetuating the legacy of his ancestors?
  6. The Sport of Kings comprises a narrative thread about the Forge family and Hellsmouth interspersed with self-contained stories. Some of these stories read like myths or folktales; others have biblical echoes. How do these inform the main narrative, and how do they contribute to the themes of this novel?
  7. What are Henrietta’s passions as a girl and how do they shape the woman she becomes? How does she change after her encounter with Penn?
  8. Are there times in their lives when the main characters experience real love as opposed to lust, admiration, greed, or other emotions they mistake or substitute for love? Do Henrietta and Allmon love each other?
  9. Discuss the culture and codes of the Jockey Club. What is at stake besides money? What are the parallels between Hellsmouth’s captivity and Allmon’s?
  10. What does Allmon learn from his grandfather? What is the meaning of his sermon? (pp. 215–221) How does the jockey Reuben Bedford Walker III relate to the Reverend?
  11. What does the genesis story, featuring the God of Pine Mountain, say about the origins of human suffering?
  12. How does Henry feel about horses as a boy? As a breeder? After Henrietta’s death? Based on the last line of chapter 6, what might Hellsmouth’s future hold?
  13. Why doesn’t Allmon kill Henry? When he goes into Henry’s house to set it on fire, what is he seeking to destroy?
  14. The book is structured with six chapters, five interludes, and an epilogue. What is the purpose of the interludes? Did they distract from or enhance your experience as a reader? How did you interpret the epilogue? Is there redemption in The Sport of Kings?
  15. In The Sport of Kings and in her debut novel, All the Living, what images of longing and hunger does C. E. Morgan create? What is the ultimate source of solace for her characters? How do both novels capture humanity’s relationship to the natural world?
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