IF MY BOOK: Horse Show, Jess Bowers

Welcome to another installment of If My Book, the Monkeybicycle feature in which authors compare their recently released books to weird things. This week Jess Bowers writes about Horse Show, her debut story collection out from Santa Fe Writers Project.

If Horse Show were a horse, you’d probably want to change its name right away, although old horsemen say that’s bad karma. The thing is, it’d confuse everyone if you showed up to a horse show aboard a horse named Horse Show

If Horse Show were a horse, it would be the exact color your dream horse was, back when you were a kid with sticky Flav-Or-Ice hands and deeply felt opinions about stuff like “dream horses.” You’ve probably got a good name picked out already if you can remember. 

If Horse Show were a horse, it would teach you equine ownership is far more disturbing and dangerous than Malibu Barbie and Misty of Chincoteague ever made it seem. Defying prey animal logic, it’s drawn to bad situations—steep cliffs, yawning pits, and in-ground swimming pools attract it like ants to honey. Under saddle, it bucks and farts, reminding you of mortality daily. 

If Horse Show were a horse, you’d tell your friends it’s just a little high-strung. Not bombproof enough for kids, is the excuse you’d give coworkers hoping for free birthday pony rides. You’d never mention how often you find Horse Show standing alone at the far end of the pasture, training a thousand-yard stare at the tree line. You’d never admit it scares you, staring like that.

If Horse Show were a show, it wouldn’t be on at primetime. Think midnight movie, after-school special, maybe a magic lantern spectacular projected onto the broad side of a barn. 

If Horse Show were a show, it’d air at late hours conducive to heckling long-dead people in chiaroscuro footage from rodeos, circuses, seances, sideshows, amusement parks, and sitcoms Mystery Science Theater 3000-style for the benefit of our collective cultural memory.

If Horse Show were a show, it’d attract odd sponsors. Brylcreem. Studebaker. Love’s Baby Soft. Some bleary-eyed viewers would wonder how and why defunct companies were buying airtime, then dismiss it as a stoned hallucination. 

If Horse Show were a show, it’d be the sort of thing you catch only once, late night on PBS, but a random sound effect or image or phrase or idea lodges in your mind like grit in an oyster, smoothed over for lonely decades until you’re at a party where you overhear the theme tune to Horse Show sung in the kitchen and come running elated into the embrace of total strangers, all vindicated by the verification that someone else was out there watching that weird shit, too. 

Jess Bowers is the author of Horse Show and a winner of the Midwest Short Fiction Contest and Winter Anthology Award. Her fiction has been featured in StoryQuarterlyThe Indiana ReviewRedivider, and other national journals. Currently living in St. Louis, she teaches writing at Maryville University and co-edits Cartridge Lit, an online literary magazine dedicated to video games. 

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