Greystone Press, Mar. 2012,
224 pages, $22.95 (Paperback)
Reviewed by Elliot Chan.
Published in Ricepaper 18.1, Summer 2013.
In the outset of Kevin Chong’s memoir My Year of the Racehorse, he did not know a lot about owning a racehorse, why people decide to own racehorses, or even how to make any type of extravagant purchase at all, least of all of a live animal. Chong’s pre-purchase considerations include whether it really makes sense to add more complications to our lists of things to do when one could just buckle down, save up for an apartment suite, attempt to find true love and end one’s days with no regrettable tattoos. A racehorse, well, that just seemed like an unnecessary gamble.
For most Vancouverites, the Hasting Racecourse has just always been there, like the hollow tree in Stanley Park or some other historical landmark of no relevance, but still worth saving. Until I read this book, I too would drive by it on Renfrew Street and dismiss it, unaware of all the jubilance and heartbreak exploding inside. Chong’s story
brought me into a world within the stables and upon the tracks. From bandaging an injured horse to finding a spot in the winner’s photo, Chong brings to life the glamour and austerity of horseracing. It is a culture so close to home, but so different, as if it was a machine taking me back to a bygone time.
The result is Chong’s sometimes heartfelt, sometimes comedic, but always relatable retelling of the year he spent as a racehorse owner. Or at least the owner of a portion of the racehorse: the hoof and a hank of hair, maybe. Relatable may at first strike readers as an odd choice of word, since most likely don’t own racehorses. But the book is somehow just that, relatable, as it explores that eternal enigma; the thin line between rational and irrational, and the happiness we find with uncertainty and hesitation. In this light, Chong shows how his compulsiveness is not so foreign, nor his ultimate solution: in order to accomplish everything on his to do list, he must compromise.
At first Chong admits that buying a horse was an act of exploitation. He wanted to see what would happen to him, with no awareness of the consequences; it surely must be a chance for growth. But as the story develops, we begin to see
Chong’s eclectic decisions mirroring our own. We flip through old photo albums and see all the phases we went through growing up: the awful haircuts, the skinny jeans era, and the year as a racehorse owner. My Year of the Racehorse offers a glimpse at our own life, the things we do to avoid the things we actually should do. With dry wit and plenty of adventure along the way, Chong perfectly captures the complexities of choosing between what we have to do and what we want to do.