‘Kick the Latch’ by Kathryn Scanlan – A Woman in a Horse Racing Community


‘Kick the Latch’ by Kathryn Scanlan   (2022)     129 pages


Almost everyone wants to be a part of at least one community. That community might be the people who work at your office or other job site; It might be the people who live in your neighborhood. It might be your fellow churchgoers, or the people who regularly go to the same bar where you go.

The woman who tells her story in ‘Kick the Latch’ is a member of a very tight community, the horse racing community.

The author has immersed herself completely in the life of this woman Sonia who is a race horse trainer. The author then tells Sonia’s life story as simply and clearly as possible, both the bad and the good. ‘Kick the Latch’ consists of many very short vignettes from her life as a horse trainer.

The New Yorker has published a long, long article by Leslie Jamison about ‘Kick the Latch’ which I have read. The New Yorker article is almost as long as the novella itself. The article is titled “Kathryn Scanlan’s Violent Compression”. In the article, Jamison posits that Kathryn Scanlan is using a radical new technique in presenting this woman horse trainer’s story which Jamison calls “violent compression”. I thought the story in ‘Kick the Latch’ was very well told, but I did not feel that the technique used was much different from effective story-writing in the past. I also disagreed with the byline to the article: “In her latest work of fiction, “Kick the Latch,” Scanlan continues to make art about ordinary life by distorting it.” I did not feel this story of the life of a horse trainer was distorted at all.

You get your triple-tie timothy hay bales, a hundred pounds each. Oats comes in ninety-six pound sacks. No one’s going to run up and say, Oh, Miss, let me get that for you! You carry your own. You lift them.”

I appreciated Scanlan’s minimalist approach to her subject; she doesn’t waste a word.

I was seven the first time I seen a horse break down on the racetrack.”

Of course there is the seamy side to horse racing, the betting, and many of the people involved are quite fly-by-night. In one of the early vignettes, she starts out by saying “I got raped”. The man who did it was a jockey she knew. It was devastating for her, but she then takes extra precautions, she gets her hair cut short, and she continues on with her horse training. She doesn’t report it because then her parents would never let her keep working as a horse trainer after that.

Also working with horses is often dangerous, and the people who do it are subject to severe injuries. I guess there are down sides to every occupation.

There’s always puzzlers. Just when you think you know a lot about a horse he’ll show you how stupid you really are.”

‘Kick the Latch’ is a very effective minimalist novella that presents both the up and down sides of the horse racing life.


Grade:    A




8 responses to this post.

  1. Perhaps the NY Times reviewer has a PhD in inventing a new name for something tried and true?

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      Where the New Yorker writer sees “violent compression” and distortion, I see straightforward direct storytelling. The life of a woman horse trainer is probably very interesting although sometimes harrowing.



      • I suppose that’s what I meant, though I didn’t express it well. Almost all storytelling involves compressing the experiences of other people into the life of one or more characters, and of course that’s a distortion of real life experience. I read one like this not so long ago, and first responders in the ambulance service, and of course all the things that happened to the characters couldn’t really have happened to a single person in real life, but as you say, that’s what storytellers do!

        Liked by 1 person


  2. I worked on an equestrian magazine for many years so I have had my fill of exposure to horse-related occupations and am not sure I could read this book. Lol.

    Liked by 1 person


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