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They Shoot Horses, Don't They?


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McCoy's classic novel is a powerful story of ambition, desperation, and determination in 1930s America

About the Author

Horace McCoy was born near Nashville, Tennessee in 1897. His varied career included reporting and sports editing, acting as bodyguard to a politician, doubling for a wrestler and writing for films and magazines. A founder of the celebrated Dallas Little Theatre, his novels include I Should Have Stayed Home and Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye. He died in 1955.


An extraordinary achievement and every bit as shocking and moving today as it must have been for its original readers. The characters are both more, and less, than human, the writing is tersely perfect, and the ending almost unbearably moving.

The first existentialist novel to have appeared in America
*Simone de Beauvoir*

A classic novel about hardscrabble survival in 1930s Depression-era America
*The Times*

A heartbreaking existentialist fable about a gruelling marathon dance contest [that] assumes the weight of Greek tragedy ... a masterpiece.
*Independent on Sunday*

Sordid, pathetic, senselessly exciting ... has the immediacy and the significance of a nerve-shattering explosion
*New Republic*

Were it not in its physical details so carefully documented, it would be lurid beyond itself

Language is not minced in this short novel which presents life in its most brutal aspect
*Saturday Review of Literature*

A brilliant, bitter, wonderful portrait of mother and daughter, artist and lover

Horace McCoy shoots words like bullets

A spare, bleak parable about American life, which McCoy pictured as a Los Angeles dance marathon in the early thirties ... full of the kind of apocalyptic detail that both he and Nathanael West saw in life as lived on the Hollywood fringe
*New York Times*

Captures the survivalist barbarity in this bizarre convention, and becomes a metaphor for life itself: the last couple on their feet gets the prize

I was moved, then shaken by the beauty and genius of Horace McCoy's metaphor
*Village Voice*

It's the unanswerable nature of the whydunnit that ensures the book's durability

Takes the reader into one of America's darkest corners ... The story has resonance for contemporary America and the current craze for reality television. How far are we from staging a dance marathon for television?

This almost sadistically frank pulp fiction from 1935 will cure anyone of the delusion that earlier generations didn't know the score. With murder, incest, abortion, and the like generously added to a plot about people entertaining themselves by watching the misery of others, it's like one of these eliminationist "reality" television shows (Survivor, Big Brother, etc.) as conceived by the creative team of Thomas Hobbes and Charles Darwin. These lives are indeed nasty, brutish, and short. It doesn't make for a pretty story, but you have to admire the zeal and energy with which Horace McCoy drives his point home

A sharply-honed novella... Brilliant
*Daily Mail*

America's first existential novel
*Evening Standard*

And finally, showing the modern writers how it's done... the 1930s existentialist noir classic... it's a breathtaking piece of storytelling that is still thrillingly relevant today.
*Big Issue*

The brutality of the story is offset by the poetic beauty and precision of the narrative... In our world of fleeting reality TV stardom, this stark, urgent novel feels more timely than ever.

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