First things first to any concerned animal lovers, no horses are harmed in this book. Or animals. Only people.
Secondly, this is considered one of the great works of American noir and I definitely get why. It is bleak as heck.
I don’t know Horace McCoy’s story but apparently the dude had it in for Hollywood. The only other book I’ve read of his is I Should Have Stayed Home and that was another Hollywood-is-bad tale.
This one takes on the world of exploitation of Hollywood wannabes through these exhausting dance marathons that apparently culled a lot of gullible actor-types, promising exposure to studio big shots.
Reading this book, I was reminded of a scene from Party Down, one of my favorite tv shows. Ryan Hanssen’s blonde character is not unlike Robert, the narrator of the book. He works for a catering company staffed with Hollywood dreamers and flameouts. At an Eyes Wide Shut themed party, he runs into a woman he once worked with. She’s doing the dehumanizing job of being a topless model carrying a box of condoms. He tries to convince her in his own upbeat way to keep the dream alive but she, stuck in this demeaning job that she has to take to make rent, has no time for his obliviousness.
The show is played for laughs but there’s nothing funny about They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Robert’s counterpart Gloria is not just cynical but depressed, beaten down by what life has for her both before and during her time in Hollywood. Their dynamic is one of someone who knows better and another who refuses to learn. I’ve never seen the movie but I can imagine how this would have been a star making role for Jane Fonda. Gloria has seen it all, heard it all and has no time for games.
I’m not sure how I feel about the ending, even if it’s alluded to from the beginning of the novel. It made one character seem like a sacrifice and nothing more, which took some of their agency in the end. I think it’s why I’d prefer I Should Have Stayed Home. Still, McCoy makes his point. This earns its place as some of the best of noir tales.