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They Shoot Horses, Don't They?

Chris Routledge is a writer and editor. A long time ago he wrote a PhD thesis on Raymond Chandler and a bit more recently he has written and edited books about American history and culture, children's literature, linguistics and the philosophy of language, and about beer. His book Cains: The Story of Liverpool in a Pint will be published in September 2008.

They shoot horses Horace McCoy was once talked about as an equal to Ernest Hemingway. He was known in France as 'the American existentialist' and an edition of his first novel, They Shoot Horses, Don't They? (1935) was even published by the French Resistance in 1944. McCoy wrote five novels in all, but only this one has had any kind of lasting influence and even then, not much. It is a nasty little tale, narrated by a death row prisoner reflecting on his experiences as a participant in a Hollywood dance marathon. Dance marathons, a Depression-era craze that pitted dancing couples against one another to see who could dance the longest, became in McCoy's novel a metaphor for American society and its harsh economic reckoning. Overseen by a cruel and manipulative promoter and an audience of inhumane voyeurs, the dancing couples sleep standing up, barely able to move their bruised and swollen feet. Yet they do keep moving in the hope that they might get noticed and catapulted to fame and success. McCoy's novel is about poverty, desperation, and the ability of dreams to push people to the limits of their endurance. It is also a love story and the story of an extraordinary, pragmatic act of compassion in an uncaring, exploitative world.


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DJ Kirkby

This book sounds VERY interesting!

Gary Smailes


I couldn't agree more - I remember the film but have never read the book. Another one for the list!

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