Thursday, February 28, 2008

The Filly

By Mark Probst

17 year old Ethan is pretty sheltered for growing up in the 1870s in his mother's boarding house.

Travis is a cowboy passing through who charms Ethan into joining up on a 900 mile cattle drive through the "untamed west."

What neither of them expect is that the biggest adventure ahead of them is that they fall for each other!

Passionate about old westerns and re-making them in his own style, Mark published "The Filly" under his own Cheyenne Publishing banner.

Add your review of this book in "comments!"


Anonymous said...

Mark Probst’s debut novel was a much-welcome read for me and my perpetual search for gay historical fiction that I can recommend to adolescent readers - more specifically, gay historical fiction written by contemporary authors. The setting, the golden age of the Old West (the year is 1878), provides us with a fantastic backdrop for all sorts of adventures and a more sobering context where same-sex love is concerned.

There’s probably the inevitable comparisons to “Brokeback Mountain,” but Probst’s novel is a completely different animal. Yes, there are gay cowboys, magnificent mountain ranges and adventures in cattle driving, and pup tents. Wink, nudge. However, Probst chooses to tell his story along more romanticized lines, which works pretty well with the main character’s coming-of-age process. For the most part, we see things unfold through Ethan’s eyes - the eyes of a shy, seventeen-year-old bookworm whose world has never gone past his mother’s boarding house, the general store, and an occasional foray into town, whenever he’s asked to keep his older brother in line. Enter Travis Cain, and those boundaries are slowly, unavoidably challenged. When Ethan goes off to a 900-mile cattle drive, his world reshapes itself as both extreme beauty and extreme hardship force him to grow up, to begin questioning and reevaluating old beliefs. Through all these, however, he’s still a kid, and his age and sheltered upbringing edge his ongoing development with a bit of naivete.

It’s the combination of Ethan’s initiation into adulthood and the fascinating scenes - urban, rural, and wild Nature - that makes this novel a good book to recommend to gay teens. Love, adventure, history - with two charming, young gay men as the heroes? It’s a wonderful “distraction” from contemporary themes involving high school - and most certainly one I hope to see more of. Yes, there are a few sex scenes, but they’re all glossed over and are very tame compared to sex scenes in a couple of gay young adult novels I’ve recently read.

The strength of Probst’s writing, in addition to Ethan’s characterization, lies in the setting and how lovingly detailed it is. There’s a difference, yes, in the way the Colorado mountain ranges are described compared to any of the dusty towns Ethan and his companions travel to. For the former, there’s quite a bit of care in making the forests and the deserts as organic and real to us as possible. For the latter, things are described in more general terms, but we’re all so familiar with the Old West that it really doesn’t matter. We can still see, without being given so many details, what a saloon looks like because we’ve been there before. Besides, it’s the freedom offered by Nature, not the crazy bustle of those old towns, that’s the defining key to Ethan and Travis’s romance.

I do have a minor quibble regarding the novel’s POV. We begin with a very strong limited third person with Ethan, but it shifts, especially toward the end, when we’re suddenly in Travis’s or Willie’s (Ethan’s older brother) head. The shift was unexpected, given the mostly solid POV from Ethan up until the third section of the novel, but I suppose given the circumstances of those last few chapters, there’s only so much we can see from Ethan’s perspective. Some of the discussions between Ethan and Miss Peet regarding the novels Ethan reads feel a bit stiff - as though we’re being lectured by the characters - but those are few.

The minor characters are drawn well enough without taking over a scene (though I must admit that I absolutely adore Willie). There are enough of them to make Ethan’s world a realistically complex one, and only a few are allowed varying degrees of development, which helps keep the story’s pace going.

This is an enjoyable debut novel overall. Romanticized, perhaps, but it’s still a good escape and, for younger gay readers, a much-needed addition to a genre in which they’ve long been underrepresented.

Anonymous said...

I just realized that I never publicly thanked Lee for his generosity in choosing to profile The Filly on his wonderful website. When I first started writing the book, I knew from the outset that I wanted to create something that would include a young adult readership. 25 to 30 years ago, when I was a teenager, there were no accessible LGBT books for young people. The few positive gay books that did exist, had I been able to find them, would have only embarrassed me and made me to feel guilty because of their very adult nature. So I wanted to write the kind of book that I yearned to be able to read in my youth, with heroes who were like me. Perhaps I would have felt less alienated if I could have found positive portrayals of gay kids. Anyway, for any of you who share my love for classic Hollywood Westerns and choose to read The Filly, I hope you enjoy it.
Thanks, Lee!

Mark R. Probst