A review by Stan Ridge
MLR Press, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60820-593-6 (print); 978-1-60820-594-3 (ebook)
Five years after its initial publication, Victor Banis’s Western novel Longhorns has been re-released, this time by MLR Press. If you haven’t read it yet, do. Of the several books of his books I’ve read, Longhorns is perhaps my favorite and is in a sense a companion piece to another of my favorites, Lola Dances.
Both books are Westerns – Lola about the California Gold Rush, Longhorns about Texas cattle-drivers – and both have an element of wonderful tongue-in-cheek humor. Not that Lola is a funny book; the portrait of Terry, an effeminate man mocked and bullied by the rough-and-ready, macho miners, is as poignant as any of Banis’s stories about old age and death. As Lola the saloon dancer, Terry turns the tables on them all, and they enthusiastically pound those tables, hooting and wolf-whistling, blissfully unaware of the identity of the object of their lust.
The humor in Longhorns is broader. The suggestive double meaning of the title (triple meaning, rather – the drivers spend long months on the range without female companionship and are very horny) and the cowboys’ antics made me think of Mel Brooks’ Blazing Saddles minus the silliness. As I said, Banis keeps his tongue firmly in his cheek, his humor is never in your face. While not a comedy per se, it is above all the humor that makes the book unique. Longhorns has all the elements of a serious Western – in fact, it is a serious Western – with one additional serious element, gayness, that removes the seriousness both of itself and the rest. Historically speaking, although we have no record of their existence, gay cowboys are most certainly not an anachronism. Gay Westerns are. Sure, the m/m romance genre has its fair share of cowboys, but what Banis has written is first and foremost a Western with a hefty dose of homoeroticism thrown into the mix.
Most of his cowboys are gay by default, which I assume was the case for most cowboys who got it off together. These cowboys, however, while they’re not about to let all Texas know how they find release, are up front about it among themselves. When the trail boss, Les, hires the half-breed Buck, a superb horseman who likes nothing better than to be ridden, the newcomer makes no bones about his interest in their boners. The other men are as nonplussed by his undisguised provocations as they are amused by them and very much impressed with his ass(ets), and they readily welcome him into the fold.
Buck’s pursuit of Les forms the core of the plot. Buck knows who he wants and is determined to land him, but until he does, he’ll take (that is, be taken by) whoever is available. Les is more than tempted and struggles to resist, held back not so much by angst over his possibly latent homosexuality as by his sense of dignity as the man in charge.
Is this realism? No, nor does Banis intend it as such, but he has great fun pretending. And so will you when you read the book.