Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

The cowboy way


Brokeback romance, sans angst

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Longhorns, by Victor J. Banis, Carroll & Graf, $14.95

One of my guilty pleasures is to collect Western pulp fiction paperbacks with homoerotic book covers, along with the campy gay pulp fiction as well. Rarely do the two genres meet; the Westerns never have gay characters, and the early gay pulps often fail in authenticity, with few exceptions.

One author who straddles both genres is Victor J. Banis, whose novel Longhorns will please fans of gay and western fiction. As one of the last products of the sadly defunct Carroll & Graf gay fiction wing, Banis' latest book gently blends elements of a standard romance, erotica, and traditional Western pulp fiction. It's like Brokeback Mountain without so much angst.

It's not surprising, considering that Banis, finally writing under his own name these days, is the author of more than 100 gay pulp erotic books spanning several decades.

In his engaging introduction to Longhorns , scholar and author Michael Bronski recounts his hunt for — and discovery of — one of the most prolific pre-Stonewall authors, who wrote under dozens of noms de plume, and was called "the godfather of modern popular gay fiction" by one editor.

Yet, for all this impressive back story, Banis' tale of drawn-out desire between Les, a stalwart ranch boss, and Buck, a randy half-Indian cowpoke with a warmth and sexual assuredness, is uncommon in most historic gay fiction (with the exception of the classic Song of the Loon trilogy).

Set in late 19th-century Texas, Longhorns has its share of Western clich�s, most of which are dealt with in a polished style that doesn't seem clich�. There are the joking ranchhands at the Double H Ranch who grow to tolerate and even enjoy Buck's sexual prowess, particularly after he proves himself adept at ridin', ropin', ranchin' and a few other skills. A trio of resentful neighboring farmer brothers proves a nasty problem, and a few minor tragedies ensue. But overall, Longhorns is a feel-good kind of book that never pretends to be high literature, but avoids the pitfalls of the lesser works in the genre.

Characters are hewn with depth. Buck's way of charming himself into the hearts — and pants — of anyone he fancies comes to an abrupt halt with his true desire, the strictly macho Les, who balks at Buck's blunt advances. That only makes Buck try harder.

Les is more than a cowboy, and despite his initial disdain for Buck's advances, proves himself smart and forward-thinking (in agriculture, if not sexuality) as the old ways of rural life in America are turning a corner.

Their disagreements, gradual respect and, you guessed it, eventual passion are written in a style that matches the Western fiction I often wished could be so homophilic.

The sex scenes are kept to a minimum when appropriate to plot and character, but the erotic edge pervades throughout. Combined with an astute attention to the details of ranch life, Longhorns makes for good reading over a campfire, or wherever you need some warmth on a cold night.

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