Native: A Novel, by William Haywood Henderson
A coming out and coming of age in a ruggedly contemporary, Western setting, with ancient berdache undertones.
Story Blurb: Four years before Annie Proulx’s story “Brokeback Mountain” appeared in the New Yorker, William Haywood Henderson published Native, the tale of three gay men ensnared in the politics and prejudices of an isolated ranching town in Wyoming’s Wind River Valley. Blue Parker, a careful twenty-three-year-old ranch foreman, in love with the West and his home in the mountains, finds himself drawn to his new ranch hand, Sam. For the first time in his life, Blue feels the possibility of a romantic connection, and he makes tentative plans to secret himself and Sam away in an idyllic camp high in the mountains. But the arrival in town of Gilbert, a Native American from the Wind River Indian Reservation, a man who fancies himself a modern-day berdache (or Two-Spirit), pushes Blue and Sam in unexpected, dangerous directions. Gilbert attempts to recreate the ancient traditions of his people, but the world has changed. Ultimately, Gilbert must try to find a new place for himself in society, and Blue must choose between his home and protecting the man he loves.
Review by Gerry Burnie
When you read as many GBLT books as I do, you begin to notice a similarity that runs from one book to another. It is almost as though there was some sort of ‘Harlequin Romance’ formula being followed. So, when a slightly different story pops up, even though some of the elements have been explored before, I generally go for it. Such is the case with Native: A Novel, by William Haywood Henderso [Bison Books; First Paperback Printing edition, May 1, 2010]
Blue Parker is the surprisingly young foreman of a Wyoming ranch, and gay, and as such he is infatuated with Sam—a boyishly handsome hired hand. Blue has plans to assign Sam to a line-camp high up in the mountains; a veritable Eden where they will be able to meet in seclusion and relative safety.
Enter Gilbert, a two-spirit ‘berdache’ who possesses special powers, and who goads Sam into a raunchy Apache-type dance at the small town’s honky-tonk bar.
Blue is embarrassed and confused, and so he stomps out, leaving Sam to the mercy of the red neck cowhands. Consequently, Sam is severely beaten for his naïveté, but now, moved by love and compassion, Blue moves him into his own Cabin. This has its own falling-dominos-effect as the story winds down to an uncertain climax.
As I mentioned, previously, this story has an interesting and somewhat unique theme to it—a coming out and coming of age in a ruggedly contemporary, Western setting, with ancient berdache overtones. That’s good.
It is also written in a lyrical style, with much time given to painting a word picture of the breathtaking Wyoming landscape. That’s good, too.
However, it presents its own challenges as well. In many way it reads like a stage coach ride as it lurches along, often with the driver meandering on and off the trail. Indeed, it boldly goes where every novelist is cautioned not to tread. In other words, it changes points of view from one character to another, not only flashes backward, but also forward and to the present as well. Still, there are twists and passages that are brilliant in both concept and delivery.
I’m going to give it three bees, and beyond that you can decide for yourself.
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