The Never-Ending End Times

As High as the Horses’ Bridles: A Novel, by Scott Cheshire, (Macmillan, Henry Holt and Co.), 318 pages

I can’t say that I enjoyed reading Scott Cheshire’s High as the Horses’ Bridles, but I was certainly engaged by it. This is the sort of book one reads not for the narrative arc or for the specific characters that inhabit it, but in order to explore the ideas underlying it.

We meet the book’s narrator in 1980 at age twelve when he’s about to testify before a group of evangelicals some four thousand strong. Star Wars action figure in his pocket, he comes on stage and surprises himself by announcing that the apocalypse will come in the year 2000.

The novel then fast-forwards. Our narrator is now thirty-seven, he’s long since shed any belief in the apocalypse or even God, but his elderly, widowed father remains obsessed with the end times. Josiah has been living in California for years, but he’s returned home to New York at the urging of his ex-wife, who’s deeply concerned about Gill’s, her former father-in-law’s, health—both physical and mental.

The horses’ bridles of the title come from the book of Revelation. An evangelical preacher declares: “that Last Day will be like none since the Flood. And God’s army will come riding forth on horses, and the sinners’ blood will run in the streets, thick and deep, high as the horses’ bridles.”

Josiah finds himself haunted by this image, asking “Whose blood?… I’d recited this scripture how many times without thinking?… My good mother would one day slip and swim through whose wet blood?… My mother would wade through a river of whose dead blood exactly?”

It’s the contrasts like these that make High as the Horses’ Bridles so interesting. Josiah questions his faith—but even when that faith is gone he never mocks it. For Josiah, apocalyptic faith is one reasonable way of being in the world. It’s just that he’s left it long ago and his father lives there still.

This isn’t a book to rush through. It needs to be read slowly and carefully, with plenty of time for reflection between periods of reading. Most readers won’t find a character with whom to identify, but they will have the opportunity of picking up and trying on what might seem like foreign identities, living within them until their own logic becomes clear.