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Horse

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Horse by Talley English
Paperback
Jul 16, 2019 | ISBN 9781101872734
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    Jul 16, 2019 | ISBN 9781101872734

  • Hardcover $26.95

    Aug 07, 2018 | ISBN 9781101874332

  • Ebook $13.99

    Aug 07, 2018 | ISBN 9781101874349

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Praise

“English evokes a vibrant world with grit, patience, and insight.”
—Emily Culliton, author of The Misfortune of Marion Palm

“A sharp yet spare debut . . . English’s writing, which is hauntingly ascetic, mirrors the many things left unsaid in the French family.”
Booklist

“Quiet, restrained . . . much like Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street.”
School Library Journal

“Insightful yet free of sentimentality, English’s book reaches a surprising and resonant conclusion.” 
The National Book Review

Horse might look like another story about a girl and her horse, which it is and is more: an unflinching examination of what it is to be an animal, what it is to be human, the difference and overlap between the two, and how to manage that intersection. Brilliantly written, and ruthlessly felt.”
—Madison Smartt Bell, author of All Souls’ Rising

“Talley English is a writer of power and perception. . . . This is a nuanced portrayal of the world we might remember wandering once, a memoir of a novel that gives us a language for our grief over the world we miss, the one in which animals were our brothers and sisters, when the world was big enough to hold all of us at once.”
—Cathryn Hankla, author of Lost Places

“Very well written. . . . English’s stripped-down prose works well to convey Teagan’s increasing alienation.”
Kirkus Reviews

“I am stunned by [this] book. . . . Horse gets at some murky, painful, and honest stuff.”
—Philip Martin, Northwest Arkansas Democrat Gazette

“Unmistakably a novel by a poet . . . [with] the quality of serious poetry, words chosen and sentences made for clarity that surprises. . . . Full of feeling.”
Shawangunk Journal

“An original portrait of family disruption, the relationship of horse and rider, and ongoing grief.”
Library Journal

“An accomplished debut novel. . . . Plays out with sensitivity and the graceful prose of a poet.”
Shelf Awareness

Author Essay

Fourth Street the Following Year: August Twelve
 
Not until I’m near the middle school on Rose Hill do I see another person.  She is a black woman in a white shirt and black head wrap.  I look at her and say hello, because we are the only two on the street, and because I am white and I need her to know that I am willing to meet eyes.

She says, “It’s hot, isn’t it?”

I say, “Sure is.”

She says, “I can hardly stand it.”         

The helicopter I’ve been hearing drifts into view against a uniform blue background.  It looks like a proverbial insect, but less lovely than a dragonfly.  I stop in at a shop, MarieBette, to buy coffee and pastry.  I’m already hot, but now I know that I want to walk Downtown.  I feel the need to see the barricades with my own eyes.  My dog and I walk to Preston, and soon I see the barrels that block Market Street.  Sections of solid plastic fence, diagonally striped, orange and white, are posted with black and white signs that say, “Road Closed,” in capital letters.  Six heavy trucks fill the space between sidewalks, and behind them is the green and white sign that says, “Welcome to Historic Downtown.”

I decide to take pictures with my iPhone.  I put down the coffee and bag of pastry and tell the dog to sit, and I drop my small backpack from my shoulder and dig out the smartphone.  I take a few pictures, and then decide to walk Ridge McIntire to South Street, although without really deciding, I know that my final destination is Fourth Street.

The day is hot, and I am sweating.  The dog’s tongue hangs but she keeps on with me.  I pass a man and a woman who are jogging, and I recognize them from my neighborhood.  I say hello; there is a mix of feeling in town right now; nothing is normal but acts of normalcy seem wanted, like the breakfast I purchased; I have not tasted my coffee; I’m just carrying it.  From South Street I look across a parking lot to Water Street, along which are low white cement walls.  (I had been Downtown with the poet Miller Oberman yesterday evening, and seen them placed by machinery directed by city employees.)  Blue flashing lights of police cars on upper levels of the Water Street parking garage catch my attention, and as I look down the street I can see a crowd of day-glow-yellow vested police.  I cross to Water Street, and even though I know that there are probably no Nazis, no gangs of white supremacists, here, this year, I am nervous.  Downtown is locked-down, and I can see that even the U.S. Post Office boxes are closed off with red metal bars over the handled flaps where mail would go in.  Black lettering says, “Do not attempt to open or use.”  A brass padlock looks new.  Walking on, I see that into a metal connecting part on one of the cement barricades, at the end of a row, someone has stuck a sunflower.

At Second Street, the police increase.  A black man in a black uniform wears a black cap, and “Charlottesville Police” is labeled on his right shoulder.  I ask him if I can take a picture.  He says, “I can’t stop you,” but he maybe smiles, so I feel free to raise my phone and snap.  I walk past police who line the street.  At First Street, I come to a newly posted sign.  I ask my dog to sit and I photograph her with the sign.  I often take pictures of her, so she knows the drill.  The sign says:
 
Prohibited Items By Order of the City Manager of the City of Charlottesville.  The Following Items are Prohibited Within the Downtown Perimeter Zone:
BB Guns, Air Rifles or Pistols, Paintball Guns, Nun Chucks, Tasers, Stun Guns, Heavy Gauge Metal Chains, Lengths of Lumber or Wood, Poles, Bricks, Rocks, Metal Beverage or Food Cans or Containers, Glass Bottles, Axes, Axe Handles, Hatchets, Ice Picks, Acidic or Caustic Materials, Hazardous or Flammable or Combustible Liquids, Skateboards, Swords, Knives, Daggers, Razor Blades or Other Sharp Items, Metal Pipes, Pepper or Bear Spray, Mace, Aerosol Sprays, Catapults, Wrist Rockets, Bats, Sticks, Clubs, Drones, Explosives, Fireworks, Open Fire or Open Flame, and Any Other Item Considered an “Implement of Riot.”  ANY PERSON IN POSSESSION OF A PROHIBITED ITEM WILL BE DENIED ENTRY INTO THE DOWNTOWN PERIMETER ZONE.  VIOLATION OF THESE RESTRICTIONS MAY RESULT IN CRIMINAL PENALTIES.
 

There was no such posting last year on August twelve, and even now, such a sign, one that incongruously includes, “Daggers,” does not disallow, “Hand Guns,” or “Assault Weapons,” because the State of Virginia allows these things to be carried by licensed citizens, almost anywhere.  The sign also does not include “Racism” as prohibited, although it is proven to be deadly.  As example, Fourth Street is also named Heather Heyer Way, for a woman who was killed by a speeding car, which injured many, last August twelve; it was driven by a white man who had weaponized his hatred.  I cross Water Street and turn to take a picture of a little bridge I know well, where the train crosses over and the walk-through is always dripping.  A fence and a large truck preventatively block the street.  In the other direction, across the entrance to Fourth Street, is a barricade of plastic fences, white police cars, a large dump truck, a beige armored car, and more than twenty brightly bullet-vested officers.  I turn to my right and a line of riot helmets catches my eye.  They are readied, in a row on the sidewalk, like strangely specific mushrooms grown from a detritus of violence.  Beside them stand police, casually grouped into rows. 

“I’m going to photograph you with my dog,” I say.  “She’s in a lot of my pictures.”

I feel the need to clearly state my actions, and I also say it because I don’t want them to take offense at the dog, although they don’t seem offended.  In trying to prevent my dog from approaching them, and still carrying coffee and a paper bag, I clumsily drop my iPhone on the street.  A sympathetic noise arises from the cops and it startles me.  One of them says, “Is that the new one?”  To my own surprise I respond, “Hell no,” but I add, “I don’t pay that much for a phone.”  I didn’t mean to cuss, but my voice seemed to want to yell something at them all.  I can’t seem to make myself look long at their faces, and I take a picture through the spiderweb cracks of my screen, and walk away, calling back, “Thank you,” to the black female cop who said, “Sorry about your phone.”  (When I look at the picture later, three of them are smiling at the dog.)  I cross Water Street to Fourth Street, but a white cop says to me, “M’am, where are you trying to go?”  “I want to go onto Fourth,” I say, having entirely forgotten that there are only two permitted points of entry today.  “You can’t go there.  You have to go that way,” he says, pointing behind me.  I turn around.  On First Street, the first person I see is a police officer, and my dog, uncharacteristically, pulls toward him.  I can barely look in the face of the authorities, today.  I feel confused between their role of protecting the vulnerable, and always, the possible abuse of power.  The cop wants to pet the dog.  I say okay.

“Does she want water?” he says.

“Probably,” I say.

Not only does he produce a bottle of water, the white cop in his bullet proof vest the color of highlighter, he pours it into his cupped hand and holds it to her, and she laps it up.  My rescue dog, I have never seen her willingly approach a grown white man.  I feel a rush of conflicting emotion as a press of tears threatens my throat.  Why couldn’t you be this giving exactly one year ago at this time?  We approach the security check, the dog and I.  It is under a temporary tent and set up on folding tables.  I unshoulder my bag and unzip it, and wait in one of three lines.  “I can take you here,” a cop says, and I plop the bag on a table.  “I see you brought the fuzzy child,” he says, and I peer into my bag to try and guess what he means, and then I realize he’s talking about the dog.  Everybody seems to want a moment of stress relief, today, and my dog has become a service animal.

I am past security and free to walk the Mall, as it is known.  The only place I want to go is to Fourth Street.  Already a crowd has gathered there, and as I join in, I feel that I am assumed to be a supporter, a counter-protestor, even if no white supremacists are here in person, just now.  I am dressed like one unprepared to fight, in cut-off jeans, sandals, and a sweat-soaked embroidered blouse, with my panting dog on a leash.  I am offered a bottle of water from a group called Socialist Snacks DC, who sit by a sign that reads, “You can’t fight white supremacy if you’re dehydrated.”  (What if such empathy had existed when, years back, Charlottesville’s Vinegar Hill, a thriving black neighborhood, was dismantled by white power?)  Next, I am offered a popsicle.  (Perhaps something proffered, even popsicles, might have turned a tide of eminent domain that destroyed the prosperity of generations to come.)  A cool berry sugar coats my tongue as I find myself in conversation with two young black women.  One asks if I’ve lived in Charlottesville long, and I explain that I have, and her question seems to me to have a second question attached to it, which is, “How long has it taken you to act in the goodness of change?”  It is a question I need to answer, for myself.  I tell her that I follow Tanesha Hudson, local black activist and documentary maker, on social media, and that I try to, “do what I can do.”  The expression on the young woman’s face lifts a little, and maybe we have exchanged a moment of potential.  “I’m going to get closer,” I say, and excuse myself.  Entering the crowd means staying out of the way of people who are photographing and filming.  A line of clergy and supporters have linked arms along Fourth Street.  Those in physical solidarity look into lenses or or lower their eyes to messages chalked on the asphalt they stand on, as they are documented by the multitude.  Their presence is a small miracle, because this gathering is not legally permitted, and behind them is a horizon of riot-helmeted police, face shields down, but, so far, there is nothing that needs shielding from, not peace, not well-intentioned kids, not yet this new year.

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