The Filly by Mark R. Probst
Publisher: Cheyenne Publishing
Story outline: Escaping into the fantasy of his books when he’s not working in the general store, Ethan Keller has lived a sheltered life in his mother’s boarding house. One day, an enigmatic cowboy passing through the small Texas town takes an immediate liking to the shy seventeen-year-old. Ethan is intrigued by the attention, and the cowboy eventually charms him into signing on to a 900-mile cattle drive. Ethan soon finds that his feelings for this cowboy run deeper than just friendship. He never knew that this kind of love even existed; and now for the two of them to make a life together in the untamed west, they must face nearly insurmountable odds if they are to survive.
An imaginative, charming story of young love
Review by Gerry Burnie
Mark Probst is an author with a marvellously rich imagination, and his first novel, The Filly, is proof positive of this statement.
It is set in a small town in Texas in the 1870s, where we find seventeen-year-old Ethan Keller at work in Mr. Simpson’s general store. It is one of those quaint emporiums that sells almost everything imaginable, from biscuits to jigsaw puzzles, and in his spare time Ethan reads his beloved novels.
Ethan is a nice, intelligent kid, somewhat shy and naïve due to his sheltered life with his devoted, widowed mother, so he finds adventure in reading such books as Tale of Two Cities. Therefore, it is not surprising that he is intrigued by a handsome, worldly cowboy named Travis Cain, who comes riding through looking for work.
Travis is equally taken by Ethan, and a friendship quickly forms between them. The catalyst is “Cleo,” Cain’s beautiful and spirited mare, and from this we learn that, in spite of his bookish nature, Ethan is a superb rider. Moreover, his abiding ambition is to one day own one of his own. Both of these points come into play later on in the novel to make them quite a logical progression.
The two other central characters are Miss Peet, Ethan’s former schoolmistress, and his older, sibling brother William. Miss Peet is a somewhat man hungry spinster, and William is a hard drinking, whore loving rebel, but intensely loyal to his “little brother.”
Having thus created a cast of interesting and colourful characters, he then sets them to work interacting with one another in almost comedic fashion. First he establishes a bond between Ethan and Travis, and then casts Miss Peet into the arena with her with her rather rapacious eyes on Travis Cain as well.
The Filly is far from a comedy, but I found this particular juxtaposition charming.
The real turning point in the novel comes when Travis convinces Ethan to join him on a 900-hundred-mile cattle drive. This is where Mark Probst’s vivid imagination really begins to shine. I have read firsthand accounts of similar drives, and his account parallels these in both accuracy and atmosphere. Major drives like these were no cakewalks, and it was the making—or breaking, of a man to undertake one of them.
Fortunately, it was the making of Ethan on this one, and the cementing of the bond between he and Travis as well. There were other challenges to follow, some of them dire, but I will leave these for other readers to discover.
Strong points: Mark Probst’s imagination and his obvious understanding and dedication to western lore; his characterization—for they are all good strong characters, and also his courage to undertake his first novel.
Not so strong points: Well … Travis does come across as a bit too articulate for his station. I was hoping that his mother might be a cultured lady who had schooled him, but that wasn’t the case when I met her in the novel. Nevertheless, this is only a minor quibble, and it does not detract from the overall enjoyment of the story.
Recommended: The Filly by author Mark R. Probst. It is a charming story of coming out and gay romance set against the rugged background of the ‘old’ west. It is also a refreshingly unique perspective of cowboy life.
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