book review: On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl



ON SWIFT HORSES by Shannon Pufahl
Riverhead, 2019


On Swift Horses is a book that seemed like it was going to be tailor-made for me; queer historical fiction and horses are two things I’m always drawn to.  But this unfortunately ended up being a slog, to the point where I forced myself to read the last 200 pages in one sitting because I never wanted to pick this up once I put it down.  (And I would have actually DNF’d this – I know, I never DNF books, but I swear to god I would have made an exception, if I hadn’t been assigned to review this for a publication. Which didn’t end up panning out, because I hated it too much.)

Basically, this book follows two characters, Muriel and Julius – Muriel is a young newlywed who’s recently moved from Kansas to San Diego with her husband, and Julius is her gay brother-in-law – and I’m not going to say any more than that, because apparently this is one of those cases where the dust jacket gives away the entire plot.

This may seem like a weird detail to get hung up on, but to me, this book’s most egregious offense was the author’s decision to write it in the present tense, especially given that she didn’t show much aptitude for it.  I felt like I was being forcibly dragged by the author from one sentence to the next.  Imagine looking at a painting with your nose pressed up against the canvas.  It’s a suffocating view.

I just felt like this book was trying so hard to come across as Literary and Important, and this forced ‘lyrical’ writing style came at the expense of… literally everything else.  Plot, character development, setting.  You may have noticed the incredibly bland words I used to describe Muriel and Julius up above – ‘newlywed,’ ‘gay’ – but I’m afraid that after hundreds of pages I still do not know a single thing about either of these people’s personalities.  I know what they want from life, I guess, but each of their characters felt so clumsily crafted that there was never really anything to latch onto.  I don’t know a single thing about these characters or this narrative that I hadn’t gleaned from the summary.  What a terrific waste of time.

20 thoughts on “book review: On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl

  1. Oof I could definitely not have finished a book I hated this much! So sorry this was such a waste of time (although I have to say negative reviews are normally the most interesting ones to read, and will reveal enough about a book that will sometimes convince me to read it). Thank you for reviewing this, honestly it’s been on my radar for a few weeks and I was hyped for it but now… I guess not!

    Great review, by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you! And I totally agree, I’ve definitely been convinced to read a book after reading a 1-star review! Hopefully I don’t convince anyone with this one, though. I thought this was really dreadful. It’s been YEARS since I have wanted this badly to DNF a book.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Wow, I remember being intrigued by the synopsis when this one came out, but now I’m glad I never got around to it! It’s so disappointing to finish a book and feel you’ve gotten nothing out of it. (Other than an excellent review, of course!)

    Liked by 1 person

    • I didn’t keep track of any! 😦 I’m not a big annotator or note-taker; I only highlight quotes when I’m reading on my kindle, which I was not in this case. I just looked up the author’s website and Riverhead’s site and there are no quotes on either of those, I guess even her agent didn’t see the writing as a selling point LOL


    • LOLLLL it’s a recommendation-based site so they don’t post negative reviews. I kept hanging in there because if the ending was exquisite maybe I could have stretched to like a solid 3-star but…………. no.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I’m sorry this was such a bad read but I’m glad to hear it because this book seems to be all over my instagram feed right now! The thing that was holding me back was that the cover seemed like it was trying so hard to be hit all the current book trends! (Which is unfair to the author but now I don’t feel so bad.)

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Oh, wow. You rarely have such a strong negative reaction to books but the fact that you had it with this one, it tells me to stay away from it. Too bad that you didn’t start the year on a good high. 💞


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