Shoot the Horses First: A Collection of Histories
by Leah Angstman
Publication Date: February 28, 2023
Hardcover, Paperback, eBook, Audiobook; 238 pages
Genre: Literary / Historical / Short Stories
***Finalist for the Shorts Award for Americana Fiction***
Through a historian’s lens and folkloric storytelling, the pieces in SHOOT THE HORSES FIRST revel in the nuances, brutality, mythology, and tiny victories of our historical past. A launderer takes us inside the linens of the richest families in early Baltimore. A child on the Orphan Train has his teeth inspected like a horse. Civil War soldiers experience PTSD. While one woman lands on an island of the Wampanoag tribe, a woman 200 years later finds Apache in a harsh frontier. Children survive yellow fever, the desert heat, and mistaken identities; men survive severed fingers, untested medicines, and wives with obsessive compulsive disorders. Frederick Douglass’ grandson plays violin at the World’s Fair on Colored American Day, a woman with disabilities is kept hidden away like she doesn’t exist, and a botanist is denied her place in a science journal because she is female. Themes of place, war, mental illness, identity, disability, feminism, and unyielding optimism throughout harrowing desperation resurface in this collection of stories that takes us back to time immemorial, yet feels so close, and all too familiar.
“I’m astonished by the historical breadth in this collection of stories and by the sensibility that unites them. It’s a thrill to be dropped, so vividly, into such a wide variety of settings and periods—and even more of a thrill to discover the strong new voice of Leah Angstman. Read it!”
—Ethan Rutherford, author of FARTHEST SOUTH and THE PERIPATETIC COFFIN AND OTHER STORIES
“In SHOOT THE HORSES FIRST, Leah Angstman blasts readers from the Twitterfied nowscape into the manifest past—to an America connected by the burgeoning railroad and shattered by civil war. As inventive and complex as the era itself, these sixteen fictions of nineteenth-century friction contain surprises on every page. Whether it’s an impromptu snowball fight on a battlefield during a ceasefire or a wayward orphan finding hope at the end of the line, Angstman astonishes us with complicated characters and crystal-clear prose. She is the literary heir to Shelby Foote, Willa Cather, and E. L. Doctorow. Get off the internet and read this book!”
—Ryan Ridge, author of NEW BAD NEWS, HUNTERS & GAMBLERS, AMERICAN HOMES, SECOND ACTS IN AMERICAN LIVES, WEIRD WEEKS, and OX
“Rudyard Kipling said, ‘If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.’ Nothing demonstrates the wisdom of that better than SHOOT THE HORSES FIRST by Leah Angstman. This is an immersive, expansive, and unforgettable collection of fictional histories. Drawn from various points in America’s past and clearly well researched, these stories are harrowing and hopeful by turns. All through, there are unexpected kindnesses and betrayals and acts of heroism and transformation. Characters so deeply wrought they seem to leap off the page. Soaring and vast and lyrical, this book is a must-read.”
—Kathy Fish, author of TOGETHER WE CAN BURY IT, RIFT, and WILD LIFE
“Angstman’s work is a joy to read. These characters see their worlds in the way that we see ours: naturally, and independent of the vastness of time in which life eventually situates itself in memory. Each one of these stories breathes troubling, beautiful life into the history that inspires it. The exhaustive research that must have gone into this collection lives in an easy harmony with the stories it undergirds, and it’s Angstman’s chief achievement here to strike that balance with poise and grace. Fear, love, heartache, and wonderment: it’s all right here, between both worlds.”
—Schuler Benson, author of THE POOR MAN’S GUIDE TO AN AFFORDABLE, PAINLESS SUICIDE
“SHOOT THE HORSES FIRST puts the ‘story’ in history. With scholarly rigor and the soul of a bard, Leah Angstman weaves tales of defiance and resilience that bring the past to life and show us what endures.”
—Jennifer Wortman, author of THIS. THIS. THIS. IS. LOVE. LOVE. LOVE
About the Author
Leah Angstman is also the author of the historical novel of seventeenth-century New England, Out Front the Following Sea, available now from Regal House, and the novel of the French Revolution, Falcon in the Dive, forthcoming from Regal House in spring 2024. She serves as the executive editor for Alternating Current Press and The Coil magazine and is a founding Quartermaster member of the American Battlefield Trust. Her work has appeared in numerous journals, including Publishers Weekly, Los Angeles Review of Books, and The Nashville Review. She’s recently been a finalist for the Laramie Book Award, Chaucer Book Award, Eric Hoffer Book Award, National Indie Excellence Award, Da Vinci Eye Award, Clue Book Award, Richard Snyder Memorial Prize, Cowles Book Prize, and Able Muse Book Award; a semifinalist for the Goethe Book Award; and longlisted for the Hillary Gravendyk Prize. This is her first collection of short stories.
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