Wyoming Territory, 1870.
Elijah Carter is afflicted. Most of the townsfolk of South Pass City treat him as a simpleton because he’s deaf, but that’s not his only problem. Something in Elijah runs contrary to nature and to God. Something that Elijah desperately tries to keep hidden.
Harlan Crane, owner of the Empire saloon, knows Elijah for what he is—and for all the ungodly things he wants. But Crane isn’t the only one. Grady Mullins desires Elijah too, but unlike Crane, he refuses to push the kid.
When violence shatters Elijah’s world, he is caught between two very different men and two devastating urges: revenge, and despair. In a boomtown teetering on the edge of a bust, Elijah must face what it means to be a man in control of his own destiny, and choose a course that might end his life . . . or truly begin it for the very first time.
I have only one thing to say about this book. It's something I've seen other reviewers say but I've never felt cool enough to pull it off. But whatever. I'm gonna say it.
OMG, THE FEELZ.
I love this book. I love the writing. I love the portrayal of a 19th century boomtown. I love that it's clear Lisa Henry did her research. I love the melancholic tone. I love that they are no true heroes in this book. I love that although there are a few men in this book that you may define as “bad guys,” none of them are fruit of the devil eeevil. Nothing is that black or white and I love it. I love that for a non-suspense novel it's suspenseful. On every page I wondered what's gonna happen? Something's gonna go terribly wrong – I JUST KNOW IT. What the hell's gonna happen to Elijah?
I love Elijah. He's partially deaf and deeply ashamed of it. He's been called a "simple deaf cunt" for so long he believes it. He's attracted to men and deeply ashamed of that as well. He has a loving adoptive father, Dr. Carter, but Elijah doesn't feel worthy of his love. He knows he’s not the good boy Dr. Carter thinks he is.
You've given me everything, Elijah wanted to tell him sometimes, and I'm nothing.He wants to escape his life as a constant disappointment.
Elijah lifted his gaze to see the wagon train climbing west through the hills toward the South Pass. Elijah wanted to chase it, to catch it, to leave everything behind and go into the unknown. The undiscovered country.That’s another part of this book I love – Elijah’s longing to go west, his wish to start anew, to escape a life that’s trapped him. It feels so American, this wish for the “undiscovered country,” those thousands of miles between the Mississippi River and California. Yet it’s a universal desire – a need to leave everything behind, love and disappointment, and discover what we may be in a different place entirely.
That need to escape is yet another reason for Elijah’s shame. Doctor Carter has given him nothing but kindness and love but still he longs for a new life. He escapes his shame by fucking around with local saloon owner Harlan Crane. Ok, wait, no. Elijah doesn't fuck around with him, he's fucked by him. He welcomes the pain Harlan gives him.
Pain. Elijah shuddered and moaned like the dying yearling. He whimpered, his cheek rubbing back and forth against the sheet. Squeezing his eyes shut only made it worse. Nowhere to go with his eyes closed. Nothing to do except feel, and it hurt. It fucking hurt, but something in the rhythm, maybe the friction, made his cock hard...."Tight," Crane grunted. "Tight little bitch." [....] Wasn't supposed to be like this: on his knees, his back bowed, his face pressed into sheets that smelled of sweat. His bound hands opening and closing against the small of his back. Crane's fist in his hair….It wasn't supposed to be like this….It hurt, but somehow Elijah came harder in Crane's bed that he ever had...It's painful to read, as it's painful for Elijah to experience, but it's also arousing, as it is for Elijah. As a reader you're enthralled, but inside you want to scream for Elijah to get the hell out. That’s some good damn writing right there.
Another thing I love? Cattle rustler Grady Mullins. He’s a bit of a “world’s most perfect boyfriend” character, but it’s less obvious in this book than it is in other less subtle romance novels. I mean, did you see the sentence where I said he’s a cattle rustler? Perfect boyfriends don’t steal cattle and occasionally sell them back to their owners. But he is loving. He is kind. And he sees Elijah. Like Harlan, he sees Elijah’s need for rough sex but he also sees a boy who needs love and acceptance. Who needs someone who will never leave him. Elijah may like rough treatment but he also needs gentling. Grady knows if he pushes Elijah any chance he has to love him will slip away.
In that moment, it had been enough that Elijah wanted him. In that moment and in this one. Grady liked to think that maybe Elijah was thinking of him too. That was more than Grady had ever had with anyone. They’d hardly spoken, hardly touched, but there was something. It was fragile and ephemeral. It was fireflies. Grady wanted to catch it and hold it in a jar. He wanted to watch it glow. Fragile and ephemeral, but it was as real as anything else.Although I've mentioned two different men, Harland and Grady, do not mistake this book for a love triangle. I never once considered Harlan a possible suitor for Elijah’s affections. Neither was it guaranteed Elijah would fall for Grady. (Other than the fact this book is identified as an MM Romance, anyway.) Elijah’s choice wasn’t between two men, but between self-loathing and hope.
Strange, what paths lives took. How they diverged. Twisted and shot off in a new direction like a budding growth on a tree.I feel the need to mention one warning to possible readers: if you’re looking for a traditional romance, where once two dudes meet no other penises shall interest them, this probably isn't the book for you. This book is complicated and enigmatic – nothing is simple. Which is exactly why I love it.
Seriously, people, why the hell haven’t I read more Lisa Henry?
**Copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review**
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