Thursday, June 14, 2012

Review: On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch

On the Trail to Moonlight GulchOn the Trail to Moonlight Gulch by Shelter Somerset
Amazon Kindle Edition, May 2012
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This review appears at OurStory/GLBT Bookshelf:

REVIEW: On the Trail to Moonlight Gulch

By Shelter Somerset

Rreviewed by Lichen Craig

Four out of five stars.

The first thing that must be said about The Trail to Moonlight Gulch is that is a rollicking good read – never less than entertaining. Somerset has a knack for drawing interesting characters, compelling the reader to stay glued to the story. And a good story it is: set in late nineteenth-century Chicago and Dakota Territory, it is full of angst, twists and turns, surprises, sweet romance, danger and suspense. Unfortunately, for the discerning reader, the book contains some glaring flaws, but these are made up for by the excitement inherent in the story itself.

Nineteen-year-old Torsten Pilkvist is a good boy. The son of Swedish immigrants, the owners of a bakery and boarding house in Chicago, his days are filled with diligently and respectfully working at his family’s business. But Torsten dreams of finding a way to leave home and start an adult life, and he is tormented by the shame in the realization that he is sexually attracted to men. When he meets the love of his life, things seem to be looking up, until a tragic accident changes the course of his hopes. Despairing, he answers an ad for a mail-order bride to the Black Hills of the wild Dakota Territory– but he answers it deliberately keeping his gender to himself. Predictably he falls for the letters’ recipient, and vice-versa. And more predictably, a final confrontation with his parents over his sexual preferences leads to Torsten’s fleeing toward the West to find the frontiersman of his fantasies – despite the lie upon which their correspondence has flourished.

Somerset is a master at painting a picture of the daily details of the past. One can see the streets of Chicago, smell the air, feel the surge of immigration. The pages are furnished with historical factual details that make reading fascinating for the fan of a good historical novel. Likewise, the latter part of the book paints a picture of the American frontier in which one smells the pine, hears the trickle of waterfalls, senses the tension of the gold-rush years, and appreciates the stark contrast between the easier life east of the Mississippi and the hard physical labor required to carve out a life in the West. The homestead on which Franklin Ausmus lives is so vivid that one deeply feels its terrific impending loss when it is threatened.

The problems with the book come mainly in the last quarter. The first three-quarters of the book read quickly, enticingly – although this reader heaved a sigh at the suggestion that a nineteen-year-old finds a forty-year-old sexually attractive, particularly in an era where people who lived hard lives aged quickly; the May-December cliché is much overdone in gay romance. But barring that failed suspension of disbelief – there are some problems that should never appear in an otherwise well-written book. Perhaps most frustrating is the abundance of clichés. These come to a head when during a final shootout at the homestead, we have someone falling shot from a tower, then crawling on his belly to painfully raise a rifle and fire the shot that saves the hero; we have a villain having been dispatched with several gunshots, then rising from the dead to stand and aim a rifle at the hero one more time. These kinds of things leave the reader rolling eyes. There are also lapses in logic – for example when a character steals a horse and drops his duffle bag, only to magically be in possession of the contents of the bag later; men have anal sex repeatedly without anyone using any type of lube or adequate preparation (elementary research for a writer hoping to write gay sex scenes!). Most annoying are the glaring grammatical errors in the final quarter of the book. These matter because they break the flow of reading – forcing the reader’s mind to stop abruptly.

Unfortunately, such a foray into cliché, illogic, and technical error hurts the believability of the story overall and lessens the quality of the book. Still, the story as an idea is so terribly good, the description so well-done, and the characters so strong, that this reviewer must somewhat reluctantly assign a four of five stars. If the reader can look past the occasional silliness, the book is well worth the time.

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