Percival Everett
John Hunt is an animal specialist, living near Laramie, Wyoming. He loves horses, trains them (and their riders), and lives with his Uncle Gus. Gus is the crabby old man we all love --- independent, feisty --- not unlike our favorite grandfather in "Boondocks."

John is a person who thrives on defying clichés. He went to Phillips Exeter, the exclusive prep school. He got his degree in Art History at Berkeley. He and Gus enjoy good food, good horses, a good life there in the high desert. He and Gus are black.

The drama is built-in. We're presented with a smart, proud hero ... who is unflappable and, like most of us, seriously indecisive when decisions are needed. Part of the tension of Wounded is wondering when some hick is going to use the N-word and piss him off ... and piss the reader off, too.

Enter David, son of John's college roommate. David is gay, twenty, and soon falls in love with John. How does John handle it?

Well, let's say this about that. Everett --- possibly a horseman himself --- knows how to train the reader, lead us around his corral. He is no ignoramus on the subjects of Wounded: horses, the upper middle west, and, presumably, people. He also knows what it is like to be a black in America (he's black).

He can frame dialogue nicely, and can build a plot ... sort of. John Hunt comes off as someone we can believe in and relate to. If he were running a dude ranch up there in Wyoming, you and I would probably sign up in an instant.

§     §     §

Still, this one might have been better off entitled The Two Kisses. The principal plotline is that of a black horsetrainer trying to make do --- and stay out of trouble --- in the Wyoming highlands. But then there are the rednecks. And this twenty-year-old kid in love with him. And Morgan.

She is John's lady friend, and she wants to cuddle, even cozies up to him in a nearby cave. John seems a little wary (his chilly first wife died falling off a horse not so long ago).

Young David nearly freezes to death in the very same cave. In a fit of anger he has run off to hide from his visiting father. John hunts him down, barely saves him from freezing to death:

    He began to mutter things, more sounds than words. I tried to take that as a good sign. David moved his face in front of me and he pressed his icy lips against mine. It took me a few seconds to realize it was a kiss. I had never been so confused. I let him kiss me, felt his shivering face soften to mine. I just wanted him warm, warmer, I couldn't pull away; I was trying to save his life.

Oh those kisses.

All this bussing becomes subject of a somewhat anxious dialogue between John and Morgan, which could be something worth plotting out: The story of an older man who doesn't want to rock the boat, being chased by a lady love; the adventures of a man who is not at all interested in the gay world finding himself pulled into it.

But the author blows it. Perhaps he is too eager to get on to his next title. (This is #17.) Just when the snake rises up before the rearing horse, David gets kidnapped, brutalized by the rednecks. John and Gus rescue him and then he up and dies.

What the author has done here is to commit charactercide. By murdering David and cutting the story short the author has shied away from what could have been a powerful, unusual and diverting drama. There is a strong possibility that he shut this one down on page 202 because he simply didn't know what to do, or how to do it. Too bad.

So we get the booby-prize: a couple of easy deaths, a simplistic climax. The rednecks are tortured a little bit, cut down to size, disposed of. It will be, presumably, easy for John to survive, hitch his wagon to Morgan ... and forget that strange, not so unpleasant kiss from those icy lips, in the depths of the cave.

--- Lolita Lark
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