Percival Everett's latest novel, "Wounded," is a modern-day frontier story about an African-American horse trainer who has a passion for cave...
by Percival Everett
Graywolf, 207 pp., $23
Percival Everett’s latest novel, “Wounded,” is a modern-day frontier story about an African-American horse trainer who has a passion for cave exploration. It’s also a novel about an interracial romance played out in the sweeping isolation of the open range. Then again, “Wounded” is a taut vigilante tale spun around the horror of anti-gay violence.
“Wounded,” just 207 pages, manages to be all of these things at once. The prolific Everett (“Erasure,” “Glyph,” “American Desert”), who divides his time between Southern California and Vancouver Island, is well known for his genre-blending literary exploits.
Everett has found a credible vehicle this time in the contemplative and reserved John Hunt, who has lost his wife in a horse-riding accident. Hunt is a sought-after horse trainer who lives on the outskirts of a Wyoming cow town, Highland, with his street-smart yet big-hearted 79-year-old uncle Gus. The wise-cracking duo are like a high-plains version of Fred and Lamont on the ’70s sitcom “Sanford and Son.”
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The new apple of Hunt’s eye is a sassy white female rancher named Morgan, who’s equally smitten with him. The apple of Gus’ eye is a badly wounded coyote that he’s nurturing back to health, after Hunt found it in the wild.
Everything should be fine. But then there is a fatal gay-bashing, clearly inspired by the 1998 attack on gay college student Matthew Shepard. The bashing draws gay-rights activists to Highland, including a 20-year-old gay man named David, the idealistic son of an old friend of Hunt’s. The two develop a close bond when David comes to stay with Hunt at his ranch.
Everett exploits the remembered rawness of the real event to thrust the reader into the world of his characters, who now must figure out if there are violent bigots in their midst. In the indiscriminately bitter, “hard cold” of the Wyoming hinterlands, the only true refuge is a belief that everyone should live and let live. “Wounded” demonstrates that’s a delicate social contract to uphold.
Everett is to be admired for even attempting to simultaneously plumb this nation’s complexes over race and sexuality. He’s a spare, yet powerful writer.
But “Wounded” wraps itself up in a swift few pages at the end like a Hollywood summer blockbuster in which the heroes are forced to take matters into their own hands — a disappointment, given the social tensions Everett takes on.
Everett’s “Wounded” does ring true in many respects. But like reality itself at times, it doesn’t leave us with much hope for healing.
Tyrone Beason: 206-464-2251 or email@example.com