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Jubilee King by Jesse Shepard

June 7, 2012

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This book of short stories was recommended to me over a fair amount of tequila by a couple I met on vacation in Mexico last year. The husband, after recommending the book, admitted that the author is a friend of his. Regardless, I love random book recommendations so I checked it out.

The stories are interesting. The subjects vary some, but quite a few about caring for horses. Shepard knows a lot about horses. His writing is subtle and his dialogue feels real, but overall the collection is a bit uneven. I often like open-ended stories, but a couple of these left me thinking, “That’s all?” Yet others felt like they almost came to a punchline.

Regardless, I did enjoy the book, particularly two stories. “Flaw in the Shelter” is about a man climbing onto his roof to free a bird from his chimney. Standing there, surveying his property from a new height brings on an introspective moment that hints at Cormac McCarthy or Larry McMurtry—an inventorying of an independent western American life.

The title story is about a young mill worker who has agreed to help his older boss do some digging out on a remote patch of land, though he doesn’t know the reason. Only later is it revealed that they are trying—illegally, as they are trespassing—to locate the body of a horse buried somewhere out there so the boss can get a DNA sample and prove the lineage of one of his colts.

It is this kind of realism, both very plain and of a different world, that makes these stories interesting. They didn’t blow me a way, but they had a nice, simple feel to them.

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