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In He Says, She Says, I Say, and Nobody Tells the Truth, Whatever That is, on the Backside of Suffolk Downs (a narrative), Melissa Shook, a documentary photographer, turns her observer's obsession into a narrative poem, written in the vernacular, providing a rare glimpse into a community of folks who work hard, long hours readying Thoroughbreds for racing. Seventy-years old and retired from teaching, she spent five summer months washing water buckets and mixing feed as a way of learning about humor under duress and danger, dedication to routine and physical labor, small economies and big gambles, winning and losing in this hardscrabble, often dangerous, always risky, business of racing on a small-time track.
"'Sweetie Heart, horse broke 'is leg. Putting him down now. Rider ok' says one of the characters in Melissa's Shook's beautiful, big-hearted book, so fully alive to the vernacular speech of the backside workers at Suffolk Downs. Shook's ear is perfectly attuned to the multiple registers of heartbreak and humor, humiliation and bewilderment, as well as to instances of gallant generosity, as these mostly immigrant workers face life at the track with the odds intractably stacked against them. It is a record of her time spent working at Suffolk Downs, among the hot-walkers, stall-muckers, and grooms, and it is written in a level voice so intensely and precisely concentrated upon the voices of others, and focused upon the brute facts of existence, that it generates deep emotion by its sheer selfless immersion. But the real story of the story of the backside at the racetrack is our sense of a guiding hand composing her felicitous art: wise, wry, at times desperately laconic, and never a whiff of pretension. Melissa Shook's book speaks the local idiom of authenticity and connection."--George Kalogeris
Melissa Shook is a photographer, installation artist, and writer who has taught at MIT and UMass Boston. Her previous books include My Suffolk Downs (2012). Visit her website at http://melissashook.com.
ISBN 978-1625490797, 64 pages, $17.00