Gerry B's Book Reviews

Queer Cowboys – Chris Pickard

Publisher: Palgrave MacMillan (2006) 

Three 1/2 stars

Outline: “Brokeback Mountain” exploded the myth of the American cowboy as a tough, gruff, and grizzled loner. “Queer Cowboys” exposes, through books by legendary Western writers such as Mark Twain, James Fenimore Cooper, and Owen Wister, how same-sex intimacy and homoerotic admiration were key aspects of Westerns well before “Brokeback’s” 1960’s West, and well before the word “homosexual” was even invented. Chris Packard introduces readers to the males-only clubs of journalists, cowboys, miners, Indians, and vaqueros who defined themselves by excluding women and the cloying ills of domesticity and recovers a forgotten culture of exclusively masculine, sometimes erotic, and often intimate camaraderie in the fiction, photographs, and theatrical performances of the 1800’s Wild West.

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An interesting and informative anthology 

Review by Gerry Burnie 

While my usual genre is historical fiction, I am always on the lookout for research of a historical variety. Therefore, although it has been around for a while, “Queer Cowboys: And other erotic male friendships in nineteenth-century American literature” by Chris Packard (Palgrave Macmillan, 2005) is one such work. 

The stated objective of this thesis is to explore the “bonds that hold … [same-sex partners, i.e. ‘sidekicks’] together, particularly the erotic affection that undergirds their friendship.” To do this it painstakingly explores the “originary” texts of seminal, nineteenth-century writers who, individually and collectively, created the prevailing stereotype of the devoted same-sex partners. Moreover, the author undertakes to “teach readers how to recognize homoerotic affection in a historical discourse that was free from the derogatory meanings associated with post-1900 evaluations of male-male erotic friendships”—a not overly presumptuous ambition, given that Packard teaches literature and writing at New York University and New School University. 

 Okay, I am one such hypothetical reader, so let’s see how well Professor Packard achieved his objectives. 

At the risk of oversimplifying Packard’s thesis, it starts with an underlying premise that before 1900—i.e. before “the modern invention of the ‘homosexual’ as a social pariah”—cowboy relationships were freely represented as quite a bit more affectionate than they are after that date. Moreover, although the stereotypes generally depicted ethnic warfare; citing the threat of “savagery” as justification for ethnic slaughter, and the freeing-up of territory to make way for European homesteaders, writers like James Fennimore Cooper wrote about friendships, “even marriage rituals,” between members of warring groups based on shared values. In addition friendships between young whites and natives were quite common. These mixed friendships usually had the natives tutoring the boys in the primitive ways of the wilderness, and included rituals of brotherhood, i.e. exchanging blood, and other physical, nuptial-like rites. 

Notably absent from this literary same-sex scenario is any role for femininity, which is described by one quoted authority, Walter Benn Michaels, as “…the problem of heterosexuality.”  The ‘problem’ being the threat of reproduction in a period when fear of mixed-ethnicity through sex or marriage was keen in American culture. Moreover, femininity and reproduction ran contrary to the strong, independent, and particularly ‘free’ nature of the cowboy characters. 

“Within canonical as well as ignored literature, high culture as well as low, homoerotic intimacy is not only present, but it is thematic in works produced before the modern want him to be queer. America’s official emblem of masculinity is not one who settles down after he conquests … rather, he moves on, perpetually conquering, and repeatedly affirming his ties to the wilderness and his male partner.” 

Having thus stated his hypotheses, Packard then goes on to support these with an anthology of mostly “canonical” writings—i.e. Cooper’s “The Leatherstocking Tales,” Owen Wister’s “The Virginian,” and Walt Whitman’s poetry.  He also introduces some lesser known examples, such as Claude Hartland’s “The Story of a Life,” Frank Harris’s “My Reminiscences as a Cowboy,” and Frederick Loring’s “Two College Friends.” 

While circumstantial, when read from a homoerotic perspective Packard makes a very compelling case, over all.  There are no ‘smoking-gun’ examples, of course, because such blatancies would have been considered excessive by Eastern readers—meaning east of the Mississippi, but it is evident that the implication was there just below the surface. Consequently, he has also taught us how to recognize homoerotic affection in “historic discourse.” 

To get to that level of edification, however, the reader has had to wade through an Introduction that I found to be a jumble of complex ideas, confusingly presented and fraught with academic jargon—i.e. “nexus,” “praxis,” “lingua franca,” and so forth. A case on point: 

Given the instant and undying popularity of cowboys in U.S. popular culture during a period of rapid national expansion, to identify a homoerotic core in its myth about the supremacy of white American masculinity is to imply that American audiences want their frontiersmen to practice nonnormative desires as part of their roles in nation building. In other words, if there is something national about the cowboy (and other frontier heroes of his ilk), and if there is something homoerotic about American national identity as it is conceived in the American West.” 

Perhaps I am a bit slow on the uptake, but I didn’t find the “In other words” any more elucidating than the original statement. 

Happily, once he launches into the body of the argument his tone becomes somewhat less esoteric, and apart from belabouring some points—giving a new dimension to the term ‘moot point’—he presents a very interesting and informative perspective on nineteenth-century thought. 

Those looking for titillating erotica, however, are bound to be disappointed but well-informed after reading this work.

January 23, 2010 Posted by | Gay Literature | 11 Comments

Longhorns, by Victor J. Banis

An enjoyable read in the style of Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour

bee3bee-half

longhorn - coverForty-year-old Les, the trail boss of the Double H Ranch, works for its beloved chatelaine, the elderly widow Miz Cameron, “a little dumpling of a woman, dressed in black.” Les rides herd over a crew of rowdy cowboys, roping steer and sleeping around prairie campfires. Young drifter Buck, part Nasoni Indian, catches up to them on a roundup. After proving himself an expert sharpshooter, rider and roper, Buck celebrates his initiation to the group by luring one of their number, Red, into his bedroll. But Buck is really after Les, sandy-haired and significantly endowed.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

I had previously passed on  Longhorns by Victor J. Banis [Running Press, July 13, 2007] several times, fearing that the title was a euphemism for long (male) ‘horns,’ but seeing the reaction it has received from so many readers, my curiosity finally got the better of me.

What I found was a pulp-style western, written (for the most part) in the classic vernacular. These are both good features from this reader’s point of view. Moreover, Victor Banis has also done quite a good job of capturing the atmosphere and camaraderie of a 19th-century cattle roundup; ruggedly independent men, interacting man-to-man, and free from the disruptive influence of women.

And, yes, there was sex between some of them [see: Queer Cowboys by Chris Pickard]. It was common for men in early Western America to relate to one another in pairs or in larger homo-social group settings. At times, they may have competed for the attention of women but more often two cowboys organized themselves into a partnership resembling a heterosexual marriage. This is reflected in a poem by the renowned cowboy poet, Charles Badger Clark, i.e.

longhorn - lost pardnerWe loved each other in the way men do
And never spoke about it, Al and me,
But we both knowed, and knowin’ it so true
Was more than any woman’s kiss could be.
We knowed–and if the way was smooth or rough,
The weather shine or pour,
While I had him the rest seemed good enough–
But he ain’t here no more!
The range is empty and the trails are blind,
And I don’t seem but half myself today.
I wait to hear him ridin’ up behind
And feel his knee rub mine the good old way
He’s dead–and what that means no man kin tell.
Some call it “gone before.”
Where? I don’t know, but God! I know so well
That he ain’t here no more!

Nevertheless, as can be seen from the above, it was seldom if ever overt, and this is where the story lost credibility with me. Buck was just a bit too out to be believable—or to have even survived, for that matter. Moreover, as several other reviewers have already noted, his fellow cowhands were also incredibly accepting of a way of life that was still considered “unspeakable.”

These are not fatal flaws, just niggling drawbacks, so I want to stress that this is an enjoyable story with some really strong writing, and a bang-on style. In fact, the style is every bit as authentic as Zane Grey and Louis L’Amour. Three and one-half bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 44,099

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Notice to all those who have requested a book review

Thank you for your interest, and my apologies for not responding to your request individually. I’m getting there, but the numbers have been overwhelming. Please extend your patience just a bit longer.

Thanks again!

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Glory Hallelujah! – I am pleased to announce that I have finished the pre-edited draft of my WIP novel, Coming of Age on the Trail. It has taken three years, 227 pages, 133,500 words, and a good deal of sweat and tears. I also feel behoved to mention that I had to fight Microsoft Word (“Microcrap”) every single line, paragraph, and page along the way. In fact, I have given it an un-dedication at the front of the book. To learn more, click on the above link or image.

stag dance copy2

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

      

Thanks for dropping by. Hope you found your visit interesting and enjoyable. Looking forward to seeing you again next week!

January 28, 2013 Posted by | Coming out, Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay romance, Historical Fiction, Historical period, M/M love and adventure, Traditional Western | 2 Comments

According To Hoyle by Abigail Roux

Well written in the classic western style

Story blurb: By the close of 1882, the inhabitants of the American West had earned their reputation as untamed and dangerous. The line between heroes and villains is narrow and indistinct. The concept that a man may only kill if backed into a corner is antiquated. Lives are worth less than horses. Treasures are worth killing for. And the law is written in the blood of those who came before. The only men staving off total chaos are the few who take the letter of the law at its word and risk their lives to uphold it. But in the West, the rules aren’t always played according to Hoyle.

U.S. Marshals Eli Flynn and William Henry Washington are escorting two prisoners to New Orleans for trial when they discover there’s more to the infamous shootist Dusty Rose and the enigmatic man known only as Cage than merely being outlaws. When forces beyond the marshals’ control converge on the paddlewheeler they have hired to take them downriver, they must choose between two dangers: playing by the rules at any cost or trusting the very men they are meant to bring to justice.

Available in e-book format – 640 KB

About the author: Abigail Roux was born and raised in North Carolina. A past volleyball star who specializes in pratfalls and sarcasm, she currently spends her time coaching middle school volleyball and softball. Any spare time is spent living and dying with every Atlanta Braves and Carolina Panthers game of the year. Abigail has a little girl they call Boomer, four rescued cats, one dog, a certifiable extended family, and a cast of thousands in her head.

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Review by Gerry Burnie

Like the title implies, “According to Hoyle,” by Abigail Roux [Dreamspinner Press. 2011] is a “thinking western.” Oh, it has the usual standbys, i.e. the gunfights and rough-and-tumble, plus the ‘good guys’ in the persons of two lawmen, Marshals Eli Flynn and William “Wash” Washington, a pair of ‘not-so-good’ guys, Gabriel “Dusty” Rose and the mysterious ‘Cage,” and some downright no-goodnics like Stringer & company. However, being plot driven it has somewhat more sophistication than shoot-em-up.

The crux of the story comes in the second half when Flynn and Washington undertake to deliver Rose and Cage to justice in New Orleans, and to do so they take a riverboat down the mighty Mississippi.  Cloistered, so-to-speak, the four men cannot help but interact, and Rose, the plot catalyst, sets the pace by openly taking a shine to the enigmatic Cage. Dusty is the one to do it, of course, because he is written as a glib-talking, iron dandy, who makes no apologies for his preference for men, and as their relationship develops it gets Flynn and Wash thinking romantically as well.

By way of a parallel plot there is a valuable artefact on the boat, and its allure attracts the attention of the sinister Stringer and his band of outlaws. Standing in the way, of course, are Flynn and Washington who are sandwiched between the outlaws they have in custody, and the ones they haven’t dealt with, yet. This inevitably causes some rethinking and reshaping of trusts and alliances.

My views

Overall, I liked it for the complexity of plot, and the adherence to classic western principles; i.e. resisting the prevailing temptation of bouncing characters in and out of bed. For some unknown reason, contemporary westerns tend to consist of riding the range on someone’s butt; whereas, Zane Grey (“Riders of the Purple Sage”), Max Brand (“Destry Rides Again”), and Owen Wister (“The Virginian”), etc., wrote no sex whatsoever.

But while we are on the topic of sex and sexual orientation, I did find the occurrence of four same-sex-oriented characters in the same plot a bit much. Yes, there probably was as much same-sexual activity as there is today [see: Queer Cowboys – Chris Pickard for a discussion on that topic], but, for the most part, it was all very hush-hush.

I also had a bit of difficulty following the plan for the heist. It just didn’t seem as solidly thought out as the rest of the plot. However, that may be just me. Recommended as a good read. Four bees.

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Visitors count to Gerry B’s Book Reviews – 27,065

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Come visit “We Carry the Torch – It is an event linked to the Olympic torch relay through the UK, trying to cover all 70 days of the event with posts linked to the area the torch will visit that day. Something about a GLBTQ story set there (published or about to be), or about an author who lives there. Some research set in the vicinity or a link to a character from a story (born there, left in disgrace, or the like).

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My “work-in-progress” novel (no name yet)

I’m working diligently—when I’m not doing the governments’ bidding or wrestling with computers and computer programs—and it is moving ahead (about 40%) rewritten. Basically it is the same story as in Coming of Age on the Trail, but in two parts. Therefore, I’m rewriting Part 1 as a stand-alone novel that will have a sequel in Part 2.

I’d love to use the picture of these two lads on the cover, but I don’t have the rights to it. Nonetheless, this is the image I’m using (in my mind) as I develop “Cory” and “Reb” as characters.

More news as I go along.

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If you would like to learn more about any of my 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.

      

Thanks for dropping by! Please feel free to leave a comment.

June 3, 2012 Posted by | Fiction, Gay fiction, Gay historical fiction, Gay romance, Historical period, M/M love and adventure | 1 Comment

   

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