ON SWIFT HORSES by Shannon Pufahl
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.