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Go Very Highly Trippingly To and Fro/The Stretch Run
by Raymond DeCapite
Sparkle Street Books, 2000, 280 pages, softcover

This book is by a critically acclaimed author, Raymond DeCapite, and is billed as being stories about horse racing. There are racing pictures on the cover and racing is mentioned prominently on the cover notes, but this is actually misleading. The volume contains two novellas "Go Very Highly Trippingly To and Fro" and "The Stretch Run", both set in a gritty, seamy, poor section of Cleveland in a pre-simulcast era, probably the 1960's or 1970's. While the second at least does have scenes set at the race track, the first is only tenuously related to racing by having the main character work for a bookie taking bets over the phone.

The first novella follows the life of Andy Farr who, on the advice of a friend, takes a job with a local bookmaker. When he grew tired of the day-to-day tedium of phone calls placing bets on tracks across the northeast, and in need of more income, he eventually found work as a poker dealer at an underground card room several nights a week. One gets the sense that Farr is at rock bottom, going from one dead-end job to another with no end in sight. During the story, Farr meets a waitress named Rachel Bonni who he sees for awhile, loses her to his actor brother, and at the end of the story she moves away to San Francisco.

In the second novella, right away you can see a similarity since the scene starts at a poker room. Frank Bondi was an unemployed 24-year-old who made his money in poker and at Thistledown. The story is all about Frank and his friend Jim Stacy who spend their days at the track and then going out for dinner at a local diner or drinks at a bar, each one different from the last. Along with poker and horse racing, they also bet on football through a bookie. Instead of a waitress as in the previous story, Frank meets a dental hygienist named Lucy Campbell. Eventually Jim steals Lucy away from him and as the story ends Jim drives away, taking a vacation to Kentucky to visit Churchill Downs.

While they are quite well written in a slice-of-life style with lots of dialog between the characters, most racing fans will probably find them tedious. It has a few moments that are entertaining or funny, but overall it just left us flat. There is no real plot or conclusion, just a series of events, often quite depressing, that finally comes to an end without the main character achieving anything or the storyline having any real conclusion. If you are fond of this high brow style of writing, you will enjoy them, but don't buy them expecting a horse racing story or even for racing to be a main part of the scenery.

Go Very Highly Trippingly To and Fro/The Stretch Run has a list price of $14.95 and is available from Amazon.com for $12.71.

Rating:     2/5

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