“On Swift Horses,” has an interesting, original story line, one that I hadn’t experienced before. It’s is a “queer” historical fiction novel set in the American west in 1956, a a story full of love, secrets and gambling. The book implies a lot instead of coming right and telling you what is going on—this makes it unclear exactly what is happening, forcing readers to make assumptions.
Muriel is 21 and newly married. She leaves rural Kansas for San Diego, after inheriting her mother’s home in Kansas. In San Diego, she moves into a dusty rental with her husband Lee.
Muriel begins waiting tables at a horsemen’s lounge where she listens and learns about horses, jockeys, horseracing and betting. She disguises herself and goes to the racetrack. After several visits she wins enough money to buy her husband the house/homestead he wants in Mission Valley. Muriel never tells her husband that she bet on horses to get the money. She tells him she sold her mother’s house in Kansas. (I never really understood Muriel and Lee’s marriage, why all the secrets and lies?)
Lee has a brother Julius who was supposed to join them in San Diego and help buy the house, but Julius gambles on cards and ends up in Las Vegas working as a spotter in a casino. He spends his days walking the rafters above the casino watching for card cheats/scammers. He starts an affair with fellow spotter Henry.
Julius is the happiest he has ever been until Henry is caught cheating at cards and is run out of town. At this point, the author finally begins stating what’s happening instead of insinuating with subtle suggestions. Julius pays a visit to Muriel and Lee to steal from them once again. Julius finds Muriel’s stash and heads to Tijuana looking for Henry.
Julius’s travels through Mexico and back to Los Angeles looking for Henry will raise readers’ awareness of how gays, during the 1950s, had to create a secret community in order to meet while staying safe. This novel sheds a lot of light on this secret community and their struggles.
“On Swift Horses” was intriguing and unconventional. The book did keep me reading to see how it ended, which was a bit different too.