A Horse's Tale is a novel by Mark Twain (Samuel Clemens), written partially in the voice of Soldier Boy, who is Buffalo Bill's favorite horse, at a fictional frontier outpost with the U.S. 7th Cavalry. Harper's Magazine originally published the story in two installments in August and September 1906. Clemens wrote the story after receiving a request from actress Minnie Maddern Fiske to assist in her drive against bullfighting. Harper's published the story as a 153-page book in October 1907. Clemen's daughter Susy Clemens, who died in 1896 at age 24 of spinal meningitis, is understood to be inspiration for lead character Cathy Alison. When Clemens provided the story to Harper's, he included a photograph of Susy for the illustrator to use for Cathy.
The 20th Quarter-Annual Horse Contest is a comedy about two thirty-something men (Jim Lucas and Ron Treland) in the 80's who come together periodically to deepen their long-term friendship through the playing of a basketball game called "HORSE". They have developed their own peculiar way of playing the game, where the object of the game is superseded by the creativity of their playing styles and shot selections. It is more of a creative ritual than a competitive game. The game is continuously "interrupted" (sometimes in real time, mostly not) by Ron's parents, Jim and Ron's high school basketball coach, Jim's college basketball coach, and Jim and Ron's wives. The "interruptions" constitute the evolution of the relationships between Ron, his parents, and his wife, and between Jim, his old coaches and his wife. Ron is caught in his father's business and under the command of his father's crusty personality, whereas Jim is caught in his past high school glories and college failures. Jim's wife, Lynne, is relatively economically and emotionally stable, and this stability is both a source of strength and resentment for Jim, who is less stable in those areas. Ron's wife, Jeannette, is tired of the whole thing and wants Ron to deal with his blustery and obnoxious father and live his own life, but she is unwilling to separate from Ron as he works on his relationship with his father. Jim's high school coach serves as Jim's much valued connection to his glory days in high school and Jim's college coach serves as his hurtful reminder of his failure to sustain a college basketball career. All of these characters impinge upon the personal development of Jim and Ron in both positive and negative ways. Jim and Ron are fearful of doing what they really want to do in life. The basketball game, played out in its own peculiar way, serves not only as means of deepening the friendship between the two men but as a forum for their emotional growth and development. The 20th Quarter-Annual Horse Contest is a fast-moving, scene-shifting, dialogue-overlapping story of how two young men come to terms with their past connections to glory in sport and their current relationships with their wives and family. Though this play transcends realism through its shifting, integrated scenes, it 'plays' realistically. Shifts in time and place are integrated into a whole that 'seems' quite natural.
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