Gerry B's Book Reviews

Real Men Ride Horses, by Ken Shakin

Raw, uncompromising, unique, and thoroughly enjoyable.


real men ride horses - coverStory blurb taken from Ken Shakin’s preface: These stories were published before a certain Hollywood movie made the wild west famous for gay romance and frustration. But cowboys in love are nothing new, to say nothing of the Indians. The history and poetry of the region give evidence of the ways of real men, braves and pardners, with their origins in the tribal practices explored by some thirsty settlers and loving Mormons. You only have to look at an oil painting from the period to see naked boys quenching their thirst at the local swimming hole. You won’t find boys swimming naked together anymore, unless you go looking for it. Much has been written about the impossibility of gay life in the American desert. I wanted to write about all the sex you could have anyway.

I also wanted to show the desert in the mind of anyone with a sexual habit, searching for love in a man, woman, or beast. The west with its wide open spaces seemed the perfect setting for digging into the entrails of human behavior, far away from the holes in the walls in Sleaze City, but maybe just as foul.

When I left New York for good I didn’t know where to go. I toured around the States for a while, before going south of the equator and later settling in the old world across the ocean. These stories are based on my experiences going west, to a place as foreign to me as anything I would find in the rest of the world.

About the author: Ken Shakin has been called the most flippant man in fiction. His irreverent books stain the shelves of the public library, including the highly acclaimed Love Sucks (1997), Grandma Gets Laid (2008), and most recently Thrillerotica (2010). is home to his unique genre, “calculated to send a shiver down even the most desensitized spine” (Omnilit). The New York native is a graduate of the Juilliard School, with a degree in piano. He lives in Berlin.

“Shakin’s darkly humorous and perverse works have earned him an underground following, largely due to the fact that he flaunts every standard of decency.” —Contemporary Authors


Review by Gerry Burnie

This is a book of vignettes I read some time back, but didn’t attempt to review because I wasn’t certain how I could do it justice. Nonetheless, I think Ken Shakin’s zany style, his off-the-wall imagination, his tell-it-like-it-is starkness—as demonstrated in his Real Men Ride Horses [, September 12, 2012]—has affected my thinking about gay westerns ever since.

Regarding his style: Shakin writes in stark, black and white, with no shades of grey, and yet he is not judgemental. Rather, he simply shines his light on the various characters and situations, one after another, for the readers to judge for themselves. For example from Real Men Ride Horses:

I look around the bar and I know I’m in Sodom. A small town somewhere in America. This could be a Hollywood set. The bar pretends to be western. In the middle of the wild west. The sign above the swinging doors says saloon. The jukebox is twanging. The whole place is made of wood and smells like beer, but there’s a picture of Cher over the mirror that says it all. There are more cowboy hats than cowboys in here. Welcome to the pink desert.

I look at the boy in the cowboy hat next to me. It’s only been a few minutes and already we’re acting like we’ve known each other since we were kids. Playing a game. Cowboys and Indians. As a native New Yorker, I must be the Indian. My arrow aimed straight at the cowboy’s heart.

“Don’t be fooled by the hat,” he says. “Ain’t no cowboys no more. Not real ones.”

He takes a long swig on his piña colada, careful to push the umbrella out of the way with his pinky. Johnny’s old enough to drink. Young enough to fuck. He’s awfully jaded for such a fresh face. The new generation. Wise at an early age, but just as stupid. When I was his age, thrills came in books. Now they have a virtual world to wander. Lost cowboys, shooting it with a joystick.

“Let’s go to your motel,” he says.

That is just one example of many, for it is difficult to know which ones to choose, and yet it is impossible to summarize them all. So, here’s another from Bingo Cowboy:

The anonymous man heads for the toilet. For more stimulating conversation. A man follows him in. Standing next to each other at the urinal there’s nothing to say. They stare at each other’s dicks. The man slips a hand down the back of his jeans and grabs his ass. They leave together. The toilet. The bar. He follows the man into his van and in no time the man is fucking his ass. But half way through the ass changes his mind. Maybe it’s that hit of E he swallowed on his way in the bar. Suddenly the man looks like a human toilet. He doesn’t like the smell of him. Medicinal. Shitty. Maybe it’s just the lube in his ass but he decides he’s had enough of this shit. To get it over with he pretends he’s gonna shoot and the guy responds. By shooting. Bingo!

The thirteen essays Shakin has included read like stories of characters he has either met, heard about or stories he’s been told, and some of them have the ring of historic authenticity. For example, from the essay Little Hero:

The record will show that the boy was arrested in the year 1900. For vagrancy. I find the citation in a dusty book in a library in the middle of a wasteland. The fruity librarian explains that vagrancy meant something else back then. Like loitering. Standing on the corner. Selling your body.ether. The fruity librarian brings out a handful of dusty books, relics from an out-dated criminal justice system, reformed schools that have long since burned down. He seems to have made this boy his hobby. The rest of the boy’s life went from bad to worse. Until one day he disappeared from the records. Maybe he joined the oil rush or struck gold. Or maybe he ended up in the gutter. All I can do now is read the citations. And with a bit of imagination, fill in the details. The story of his young life. And of the boy who shared his cell.

When they pick up the vagrant, he’s got nothing but the clothes on his back and a piece of charcoal in his pocket. Nothing to his name except unspoken emotions and a price list, evidence of his crime. He likes to draw. The wild west graffiti artist. Always carries a piece of charcoal in his pocket so he can draw on a wall or a floor. The price list itemizes his prize possession. His youth. His body. His boyhood for sale.

Ken Shakin packs a lot of meaning and imagery into every phrase, every sentence, and even every word, so if you are looking for an anthology with a refreshing difference I can guarantee you won’t find one like it. Five bees.


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Interested in Canadian history? Want to know more? Then visit my new page:  In Praise of Canadian History.

It is a collection of little-known people, facts and events in Canadian history, and includes a bibliography of interesting Canadian books as well. Latest postKate Aitkin, Pioneer Woman Broadcaster


If you would like to learn more about my other books, or to order copies, click on the specific cover below. Two Irish Lads and Nor All Thy Tears are available in both Kindle and Nook formats. Publisher’s price, $4.95.   


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Thanks for dropping by! I’ll have another novel ready for next week, same URL, so drop back soon.

November 25, 2013 - Posted by | Gay western, Homoerotic

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