At the Right Temperature Everything Burns

At the Right Temperature Everything Burns

When Math Farnam wins the lottery, her family is allowed to move from the degenerate Burrs to Horse Country—a place of wealth and leisure, where there is no hunger and no crowding. There is also little place for underlings, like Math, who may win the lottery but who aren’t Useful. If the Farnams can’t make the marginal land they’ve been given produce crops, if they can’t be suitable servants or, worst, if they show no talent with horses, they will be sent back to the hellish Burrs. And it becomes clear very quickly to Math that her family will, in time, be driven from the haven of Horse Country.

Then, by accident, Math Farnam meets Sarah Clare, the premier horsetalker in all of Horse Country. Sarah is pampered, conceited, a snob—and engaged to a man whose breeding and conceit is almost as impeccable as hers. In Sarah’s initial encounter with Math, she is utterly taken aback by Math’s disregard for the deferences and abnegations. Sarah, who can meld minds with her great horse, Zeus, is also appalled by Math’s awkwardness around horses.

And yet, in what becomes, despite Sarah’s conscious wishes, a fast friendship, Sarah comes to owe a debt to Math that can never be repaid. Sarah realizes, too, that she cannot lose her friend to the daily deportations of the Useless.

It soon becomes clear, however, that a desire to save the Farnams from going back to the Burrs isn’t enough. Nor is it enough to save, with the Farnams, the man Math has come to love. Or his family.

All of the disenfranchised of Horse Country cry out for redemption, and Sarah finally realizes that the very power myths that allow for her privilege and status need, for there to be a semblance of justice, to be dismantled.

But nobody can call into question the power of the horse master, head teacher of Horse Country. And all of Sarah’s breeding, her contempt for underlings, her love of power and prestige, her engagement and her place in the Horse Country hierarchy converge to make it impossible for her to speak out. For Math. Or the Farnams. Or the man Math loves. Or for all of the seemingly Useless.

And yet what is the impossible but a state of mind?