My Year of the Racehorse: Falling in Love With the Sport of Kings, by. Kevin Chong – book review

Last year, the article “Do Vancouver Men Suck?” offered an explanation as to why so many smart, successful, and beautiful women in our city still found themselves without a mate. Passive, lacking motivation, laid-back to a fault, and afraid to commit to anything or anyone in particular were some of the common characteristics that ladies consistently found among members of the opposite sex.

Kevin Chong is among them.

In real life, he teaches creative writing at the University of British Columbia and is an author  four published novels , most recently My Year of the Racehorse: Falling in Love with the Sport of Kings.  While this alone may let him squeak out of the “Vancouver Men Suck” category, the character he depicts in his latest novel falls directly within the criteria.

After his father is hospitalized twice in the same year, Kevin decides it’s time to grow up. He drafts a life plan that entails the conventional milestones he has unequivocally avoided up to this point: become a home owner, find true love, settle down and have a family, see the world, learn another language, start a retirement plan, get a tattoo. A daunting list for anyone longing for permanency and maturity in some shape or form.

Since Vancouver’s real estate market is hardly a place for a freelance writer to afford a condo,  he does the next rational and logical thing he could think of: he buys a racehorse. Well, not the whole racehorse, only a part of it. Mocha Time, also known as “Blackie”, is unassuming, guarded, and moderately successful. Basically, she’s Kevin with four legs and a tail, which is probably why he takes such a liking to her and spends the next year trying to unsuccessfully vie for her affection.

There is clearly a void in his life that he is trying to fill, and this novel takes you on his search to find out how. Kevin confuses the life people expect him to have with a life that he actually wants, and consequently lives in a constant state of inadequacy and contradiction. He is someone “that wants to be adored but also reflexively scorns adored people, who shrinks from fads but reveres institutions”.  Perhaps this is why he develops such a devotion to the track, as it is filled with just as many conflicted people who live outside of the societal norms and scrape by on whatever measly earnings their hard work pays them. Despite their gambling addictions, incessant swearing, and homelessness, they all have one thing in common: the love the sport.

It is because of Blackie that Kevin is able to discover what is missing from his life: acceptance. He learns to appreciate rather than criticize and to accept rather than push, despite how “muddled you’ve made of your life, your own awful way of going — your own sore sports and bad trips”.

This novel is chalked full of witty banter, satirical humour, and unexpected metaphors that will make you laugh out loud. Chong effortlessly describes the thoughts of a single, thirty-something man who wakes up one morning and decides his life needs direction. Every guy will be able to relate to some part of My Life of the Racehorse, and every woman will see in Kevin at least a few guys she has dated.