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On Swift Horses

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A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Named a Most Anticipated Book of Fall by The New York Times, Real Simple, Electric Literature, and more. “Cinematic . . . The spaces she creates for her characters . . . have the aura of realms.” —The New York Times Book Review A lonely newlywed and her wayward brother-in-law follow divergent and dangerous paths through the p A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Named a Most Anticipated Book of Fall by The New York Times, Real Simple, Electric Literature, and more. “Cinematic . . . The spaces she creates for her characters . . . have the aura of realms.” —The New York Times Book Review A lonely newlywed and her wayward brother-in-law follow divergent and dangerous paths through the postwar American West. Muriel is newly married and restless, transplanted from her rural Kansas hometown to life in a dusty bungalow in San Diego. The air is rich with the tang of salt and citrus, but the limits of her new life seem to be closing in: She misses her freethinking mother, dead before Muriel's nineteenth birthday, and her sly, itinerant brother-in-law, Julius, who made the world feel bigger than she had imagined. And so she begins slipping off to the Del Mar racetrack to bet and eavesdrop, learning the language of horses and risk. Meanwhile, Julius is testing his fate in Las Vegas, working at a local casino where tourists watch atomic tests from the roof, and falling in love with Henry, a young card cheat. When Henry is eventually discovered and run out of town, Julius takes off to search for him in the plazas and dives of Tijuana, trading one city of dangerous illusions and indiscretions for another. On Swift Horses is a debut of astonishing power: a story of love and luck, of two people trying to find their place in a country that is coming apart even as it promised them everything.


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A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Named a Most Anticipated Book of Fall by The New York Times, Real Simple, Electric Literature, and more. “Cinematic . . . The spaces she creates for her characters . . . have the aura of realms.” —The New York Times Book Review A lonely newlywed and her wayward brother-in-law follow divergent and dangerous paths through the p A New York Times Book Review Editors’ Choice. Named a Most Anticipated Book of Fall by The New York Times, Real Simple, Electric Literature, and more. “Cinematic . . . The spaces she creates for her characters . . . have the aura of realms.” —The New York Times Book Review A lonely newlywed and her wayward brother-in-law follow divergent and dangerous paths through the postwar American West. Muriel is newly married and restless, transplanted from her rural Kansas hometown to life in a dusty bungalow in San Diego. The air is rich with the tang of salt and citrus, but the limits of her new life seem to be closing in: She misses her freethinking mother, dead before Muriel's nineteenth birthday, and her sly, itinerant brother-in-law, Julius, who made the world feel bigger than she had imagined. And so she begins slipping off to the Del Mar racetrack to bet and eavesdrop, learning the language of horses and risk. Meanwhile, Julius is testing his fate in Las Vegas, working at a local casino where tourists watch atomic tests from the roof, and falling in love with Henry, a young card cheat. When Henry is eventually discovered and run out of town, Julius takes off to search for him in the plazas and dives of Tijuana, trading one city of dangerous illusions and indiscretions for another. On Swift Horses is a debut of astonishing power: a story of love and luck, of two people trying to find their place in a country that is coming apart even as it promised them everything.

30 review for On Swift Horses

  1. 4 out of 5

    karen

    NOW AVAILABLE!!! “What a thing is progress.” set in 1956 in the american west, this is a beautifully written book about two characters at odds with the postwar values of a country in the process of redefining itself, promising new opportunities that neither of them want. muriel is 21 years old, a newlywed and recent arrival to san diego. her progressive, independent mother has recently died, leaving muriel their house in kansas. some months later, upon their discharge from the navy, her frequently NOW AVAILABLE!!! “What a thing is progress.” set in 1956 in the american west, this is a beautifully written book about two characters at odds with the postwar values of a country in the process of redefining itself, promising new opportunities that neither of them want. muriel is 21 years old, a newlywed and recent arrival to san diego. her progressive, independent mother has recently died, leaving muriel their house in kansas. some months later, upon their discharge from the navy, her frequently rebuffed suitor lee and his brother julius come to visit, during which time she develops a bond with julius, who is unlike anyone she has ever met; their late night alcohol-fueled talks awakening in her a kind of platonic fascination. she reluctantly agrees to marry lee and move to california with them, but despite their plans to share a house together, julius is plagued by restlessness and winds up in las vegas, keeping in touch with them sporadically by phone, but unready to “settle down” into their planned life. muriel finds herself, unsurprisingly, unfulfilled by married life, even though she is not confined to the traditional role of a housewife. she takes a job waitressing in a restaurant frequented by gamblers with deep ties to the horse racing scene; former jockeys and trainers, and she begins to pay attention to their boasts and speculations about specific horses and riders. eventually, she starts going to the races herself, placing bets and winning big, a secret she keeps from lee; a part of her life that, like her house in kansas, is all her own. She is stopped sometimes, at work or waking in the mornings, by a poignant feeling. The feeling is like happiness but it comes so slowly and is so austere she might easily mistake it for grief. She could not explain it but she knows this feeling has something to do with keeping a secret from Lee, which she had somehow always felt she was doing even before she had a secret to keep…If she were a different kind of person she might have wondered whether love was always this way, if it existed in the spaces between people, the parts they kept strange to each other. successfully keeping one secret makes her more comfortable with the idea of secrecy, and it gives her the courage and motivation to pursue other previously unconsidered avenues on a path to self-discovery, despite the very real risks of her yearnings. this is a book i am in no way qualified to review—or at least, not in the dinky space goodreads provides for book-reflection. and i know that sounds like a cop-out, but i’ve already spent hours writing and revising this, doing actual research ffs, crossing out pages of notes and quotes, reminding myself that i’m not getting paid to write this, nor is anyone interested in reading some rando’s hot take on sexual repression in the land of the free, or the symbolism of gambling as a conflict between hope and fate, etc; a million pages of lit crit on a book that’s not out for another three months. but that’s the kind of book this is—it demands thoughtful consideration, it engages the reader in unpacking its depths. books like this are why book awards exist, and entire dissertations about gay rights and feminism and the roots of suburban malaise will likely be inspired by this puppy. i’m not even going to bother with julius’ storyline. i’ve already deleted like thirty paragraphs full of illicitly-quoted ARC-text and external links. because i am a nerd. the book is bigger than it appears—the writing is chewy, the pacing slow and deliberate, and there’s a tendency to imply rather than state—instances where characters, we are told, come to realize/understand/recognize something, without explicitly sharing these revelations with the reader. it’s a book that rewards the attentive reader, which is pretty ballsy in a day ’n age favoring instant gratification. it’s a little steinbeck-y, but there’s something about it that reminds me of the expatriate lit of hemingway and durrell, although it’s not a stylistic or thematic similarity. it shouldn’t—both characters are americans and it is mostly set in the states, with a brief time in mexico, but there’s something about how the story plays out, the pacing, the nature of the scenes; they almost read like travelogue—watching a horse race, playing cards, the way they both (but mostly julius) interact with the people they meet—episodes that seem languid and inconsequential whose symbolic import is frequently buried, left for the reader to mine. i can’t pinpoint it, but it’s something that struck me while i was reading it, which i am mentioning in case anyone else had that experience and can articulate it better than i can. it might be as simple as being set in a nation in transition or exploring new landscapes within their country or the fact that both characters feel disconnected from the drive towards staking out new ground, establishing roots through building a home and a family, making them tourists in a cultural sense; set apart from the contemporary definitions of success. Lee wants a half-acre in Mission Valley, on the San Diego River, where they can build a three-bedroom and plant fruit trees. He has pinned the advertisement above the window in their kitchenette. When he and Muriel sit up late smoking and playing cards he tells her about the narrow valley, once settled by missionaries and then by nut and dairy farmers, now divided into lots graded flat and grassless. Sometimes he stands and goes to the little window and touches the pastel houses and the long furrow of cypress trees, and though he sighs dramatically and smiles Muriel knows he is not joking. She knows that he imagines her there in a real kitchen and a real bed. He believes the great future will meet them, in the new suburban landscape. i have made a mess of this review, with all my cutting and digressing and overthinking, but i hope it doesn’t steer anyone away from reading this. it’s not a reflection on the book, just my own unbridled—or poorly harnessed—enthusiasm making a jumble of things. this is a fantastic debut and you should read it and review it better than i have. *********************************************** full review to come, but i submitted a high-five about the book to indie next, using capital letters and everything! A densely atmospheric debut sinking its hooks deep into postwar America's tender underbelly, exposing the homophobia and bigotry beneath the nation's renewed spirit of hope and opportunity. Muriel and Julius are restless outsiders—siblings-in-law who share a passion for gambling as well as their more furtive passions—making their own opportunities to find love and happiness; a gamble that one will unexpectedly win and one will just as unexpectedly lose. An immersive and rewarding first novel. don't i sound all grown up and trustworthy? ********************************************** i was already excited to read this ARC, and then: when you send someone a cover-matching "thank you" card after meeting them at BEA, you win awards for both style and etiquette. the must-be-read-immediately-because-promises stack is still daunting, but this one has been shifted up. come to my blog!

  2. 5 out of 5

    Angela M

    If it wasn’t for the amazing prose, I would have given up on this. It’s pretty slow moving for a novel that isn’t very long and I couldn’t really feel an emotional connection with one of the main characters, Muriel, who always felt at a distance to me. But the atmosphere in these places in this time was so well written, I kept reading. It’s 1956 , Muriel is 21 , married to Lee and they leave Kansas for California with Lee’s younger brother Julius. Muriel bonds with Julius and is disappointed whe If it wasn’t for the amazing prose, I would have given up on this. It’s pretty slow moving for a novel that isn’t very long and I couldn’t really feel an emotional connection with one of the main characters, Muriel, who always felt at a distance to me. But the atmosphere in these places in this time was so well written, I kept reading. It’s 1956 , Muriel is 21 , married to Lee and they leave Kansas for California with Lee’s younger brother Julius. Muriel bonds with Julius and is disappointed when he leaves California for Las Vegas. The alternating third person narratives between Muriel and Julius have an introspective feel, which I usually enjoy because it can illicit that emotional connection, an understanding of the characters. As I mentioned, I never felt like I could understand what was happening with Muriel or why. She won’t sell the house her mother left her in Kansas even though Lee hopes she will so they can find a house in San Diego. I couldn’t figure out why or why she deceived him by going to the racetrack and hiding her winnings. I actually couldn’t understand why she married him in the first place. It was hard to imagine that she loved him. But again, the writing is just so good. Some of the best written scenes were those in the bar where Muriel works as she listens and learns about betting on horses from the men who hang out there and when she is at the racetrack. I couldn’t figure out if she was sort of a lost soul trying to find out who she was or if she may have had a plan all along and that she understood herself more than is shown to the reader. Julius, on the other hand, a gay man in a time when it wasn’t so easy to be open about it, seemed much more accessible to me emotionally. I felt for him as the man he falls in love with leaves, what he goes through to find him. The scenes in the casino, the card playing, the descriptions of how he watched the card players from above to report cheaters to the pit bosses were other examples of how I felt so much a part of the place. I also was touched by the difficult childhood he and Lee experienced. Overall, I loved the writing more than the story, so it was a bit of a disappointment. As a warning there is some violence and explicit sex. I received an advanced copy of this book from Riverhead Books through Edelweiss.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    On Swift Horses is a book that seemed like it was going to be tailor-made for me; queer historical fiction and horses are two things I'm always drawn to.  But this unfortunately ended up being a slog, to the point where I forced myself to read the last 200 pages in one sitting because I never wanted to pick this up once I put it down.  (And I would have actually DNF'd this - I know, I never DNF books, but I swear to god I would have made an exception, if I hadn't been assigned to review this for On Swift Horses is a book that seemed like it was going to be tailor-made for me; queer historical fiction and horses are two things I'm always drawn to.  But this unfortunately ended up being a slog, to the point where I forced myself to read the last 200 pages in one sitting because I never wanted to pick this up once I put it down.  (And I would have actually DNF'd this - I know, I never DNF books, but I swear to god I would have made an exception, if I hadn't been assigned to review this for a publication. Which didn't end up panning out, because I hated it too much.) Basically, this book follows two characters, Muriel and Julius - Muriel is a young newlywed who's recently moved from Kansas to San Diego with her husband, and Julius is her gay brother-in-law - and I'm not going to say any more than that, because apparently this is one of those cases where the dust jacket gives away the entire plot. This may seem like a weird detail to get hung up on, but to me, this book's most egregious offense was the author's decision to write it in the present tense, especially given that she didn't show much aptitude for it.  I felt like I was being forcibly dragged by the author from one sentence to the next.  Imagine looking at a painting with your nose pressed up against the canvas.  It's a suffocating view. I just felt like this book was trying so hard to come across as Literary and Important, and this forced 'lyrical' writing style came at the expense of... literally everything else.  Plot, character development, setting.  You may have noticed the incredibly bland words I used to describe Muriel and Julius up above - 'newlywed,' 'gay' - but I'm afraid that after hundreds of pages I still do not know a single thing about either of these people's personalities.  I know what they want from life, I guess, but each of their characters felt so clumsily crafted that there was never really anything to latch onto.  I don't know a single thing about these characters or this narrative that I hadn't gleaned from the summary.  What a terrific waste of time.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Roman Clodia

    An interesting evocation of 1950s America and two characters wanting more from life than they're 'supposed' to want - but the writing style which is all 'tell', very little 'show' and hardly any dialogue prevented me from getting as involved as I should have. Being 'told' with little being dramatised leaves the story flat and I felt held at a distance. I wanted more direct contact with the characters but the writing technique just didn't allow it. Lots of thoughtful stuff here about gambling and An interesting evocation of 1950s America and two characters wanting more from life than they're 'supposed' to want - but the writing style which is all 'tell', very little 'show' and hardly any dialogue prevented me from getting as involved as I should have. Being 'told' with little being dramatised leaves the story flat and I felt held at a distance. I wanted more direct contact with the characters but the writing technique just didn't allow it. Lots of thoughtful stuff here about gambling and risk-taking - just not written in a style that spoke to me. Thanks to 4th Estate for an ARC via NetGalley.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Anna Luce

    DNF 30% On Swift Horses has had an almost soporific effect on me. Through repeated attempts I managed to read a few paragraphs, at times a few pages even. Soon however my eyes would glaze over as my mind wandered away from the page's content. Having read and enjoyed many so called 'slow-burners' (or bricks such as Middlemarch) I'm not one to turn away from stories that have a more leisurely pace...but there has to be something (be it the characters, the story's setting, or the writing itself) that DNF 30% On Swift Horses has had an almost soporific effect on me. Through repeated attempts I managed to read a few paragraphs, at times a few pages even. Soon however my eyes would glaze over as my mind wandered away from the page's content. Having read and enjoyed many so called 'slow-burners' (or bricks such as Middlemarch) I'm not one to turn away from stories that have a more leisurely pace...but there has to be something (be it the characters, the story's setting, or the writing itself) that holds my attention. The characters in On Swift Horses seem passive paws, they move a bit around their landscape, but their motivations, thoughts, and feelings remain off page. The writing is bland and occasionally clumsy. There were many scenes that struck me as not very clear-cut...there also seemed to be little cohesion in the sequence of events as the scene transitions were less than favourable. As I'd rather not wade my way through this novel, I will do myself a favour and skip this one. Read more reviews on my blog / / / View all my reviews on Goodreads

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christopher Alonso

    I can't remember the last time I read a debut novel where the writing was as self-assured as ON SWIFT HORSES. The book follows Muriel and her brother-in-law Julius through alternating points of view, both informing each other in different ways. Muriel becomes increasingly interested in gambling on horse racing, and Julius, a card cheat, tries his best to better his own life until he meets another gambler, Henry. ON SWIFT HORSES is about so many things: love and secrets, gambling and desires, and I can't remember the last time I read a debut novel where the writing was as self-assured as ON SWIFT HORSES. The book follows Muriel and her brother-in-law Julius through alternating points of view, both informing each other in different ways. Muriel becomes increasingly interested in gambling on horse racing, and Julius, a card cheat, tries his best to better his own life until he meets another gambler, Henry. ON SWIFT HORSES is about so many things: love and secrets, gambling and desires, and love is sometimes like gambling. Pufahl's sentences are charged with the energy of a body fully alive. Her novel is steeped in longing. It asks what would happen when confronted with the life you want and what will you do then. My favorite book of the year.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Dennis

    On Swift Horses is a historical fiction novel, taking place in in the Western United States in the 1950s. The three central characters⁠—Muriel, Lee, and Julius are all in the midst of change. Muriel married Lee and moved from Kansas to San Diego with him and is learning about the horse races and how to continue to grow and mature after her mother's death. Lee wants to move to the suburbs and start a family, but Muriel has different plans. Lee's brother, Julius, is a staple in both Muriel and On Swift Horses is a historical fiction novel, taking place in in the Western United States in the 1950s. The three central characters⁠—Muriel, Lee, and Julius are all in the midst of change. Muriel married Lee and moved from Kansas to San Diego with him and is learning about the horse races and how to continue to grow and mature after her mother's death. Lee wants to move to the suburbs and start a family, but Muriel has different plans. Lee's brother, Julius, is a staple in both Muriel and Lee's lives and shows them how to live bigger than life. Julius is more transient than his brother and sister-in-law and begins working the casino route in Las Vegas. There, he meets Henry and the two forge a romantic relationship in secret. When Henry runs to Mexico, Julius ventures south to try and find him, learning more about himself than he ever thought. On Swift Horses is a story about growth and change, and it gives an insider perspective on how the navigate the hurdles that life throws at you. I really enjoyed On Swift Horses and how the story takes you on an original journey through the world of gambling. The writing style by author Shannon Pufahl is completely immersive and atmospheric, as well, and this is definitely my strongest takeaway from the novel. The story takes you into a world often forgotten in novels, Post-World War II, Pre-JFK Cold War Era. This timeframe is often overlooked in novels, but On Swift Horses really shines a light at this period. All three characters are really enjoyable, but Julius's narrative is definitely more captivating than Muriel and Lee's point of view. While the novel is a bit slower paced than I'm used to, this book is really so beautifully written. It's definitely one of the best written books I've read this year and I urge anyone who's looking for a different type of historical fiction to pick it up.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Annie

    In the past, I’ve described books as slow burns. What I usually mean is that, as I read them, I can get a sense of a lit fuse at the center of the book. There are little sparks, gathering speed, usually towards some kind of dramatic explosion. The tension draws me along because I want to see what happens when the tinder lights. Shannon Pufahl’s On Swift Horses never really lights my fire. This is a slow book. It’s also a very subtle one. In this novel, two LGBT characters carefully navigate thei In the past, I’ve described books as slow burns. What I usually mean is that, as I read them, I can get a sense of a lit fuse at the center of the book. There are little sparks, gathering speed, usually towards some kind of dramatic explosion. The tension draws me along because I want to see what happens when the tinder lights. Shannon Pufahl’s On Swift Horses never really lights my fire. This is a slow book. It’s also a very subtle one. In this novel, two LGBT characters carefully navigate their desires whilst keeping their secret in late-1950s California. For me, this book moves too slowly and is so subtle that I’m not sure I picked up everything that Pufahl put down in its pages... Read the rest of my review at A Bookish Type. I received a free copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley, for review consideration.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Terry

    I have experienced this stunning novel and enjoyed both readings through it. I didn't feel as if I could do it justice with just one. Like a fine bottle of wine, you first swirl and smell it, take in the scent, subtle hues and tones of it, then you sip and savor it. This is not a novel to guzzle, but one to savor, slowly, taking in the essence of it. However, like a Van Gogh painting, it will either appeal to potential readers or, they will not like it. I believe, like wines and paintings, enjoym I have experienced this stunning novel and enjoyed both readings through it. I didn't feel as if I could do it justice with just one. Like a fine bottle of wine, you first swirl and smell it, take in the scent, subtle hues and tones of it, then you sip and savor it. This is not a novel to guzzle, but one to savor, slowly, taking in the essence of it. However, like a Van Gogh painting, it will either appeal to potential readers or, they will not like it. I believe, like wines and paintings, enjoyment of this novel will be a matter of personal taste.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bryn Greenwood

    There are still a few days of the year left, but I’m calling it: this is my favorite book from 2019. I had a profound sense that I *knew* these people, even when I didn’t fully understand them, in the same way that the people you grew up around can still contain mysteries. I loved especially that sense of displacement of characters from the western high plains moving out to California. Taken away from those open spaces, they seem never to feel fully on solid ground & are unable to let go of Kans There are still a few days of the year left, but I’m calling it: this is my favorite book from 2019. I had a profound sense that I *knew* these people, even when I didn’t fully understand them, in the same way that the people you grew up around can still contain mysteries. I loved especially that sense of displacement of characters from the western high plains moving out to California. Taken away from those open spaces, they seem never to feel fully on solid ground & are unable to let go of Kansas. Add to it a deeply knowing awareness of how queerness (especially in historical settings) creates community amidst a need for secrecy & safety, and this book was exactly what I needed. TL;DR: queer cowboy & cowgirl story set in post-WWII California.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Jillian Doherty

    Normally I devour good books - this one though I needed to savor. Even if i wanted to absorb it more quickly I'd have lost the power of so many harrowing, lustful, devastating, life-changing moments you simple need to luxuriate in. Plus I love a story with broken, yet unapologetic characters. The venn diagram of characters: Muriel, her mother's story, Lee, Sandra are one world - Julius and Henry are another, but as Muriel and Julius' paths cross it's like lightning flashing. I wouldn't want to s Normally I devour good books - this one though I needed to savor. Even if i wanted to absorb it more quickly I'd have lost the power of so many harrowing, lustful, devastating, life-changing moments you simple need to luxuriate in. Plus I love a story with broken, yet unapologetic characters. The venn diagram of characters: Muriel, her mother's story, Lee, Sandra are one world - Julius and Henry are another, but as Muriel and Julius' paths cross it's like lightning flashing. I wouldn't want to share more as every reader of this incredible story deserves to experience it fully for themselves! Galley borrowed from the publisher.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jesika

    "I guess we all take what paradise is offered us." Reading this book felt like a luxurious treat - the writing pulls you in and evelops you like a warm hug. It is beautiful, it doesn't over explain how the characters feel and instead lets you feel their hopes, loves and losses with them. It is a poignant and powerful book about the fight to live as you are in this world. Set in 1957 America, this novel follows the lives of Julius and Muriel, related by marriage, as they take risks, learn to love "I guess we all take what paradise is offered us." Reading this book felt like a luxurious treat - the writing pulls you in and evelops you like a warm hug. It is beautiful, it doesn't over explain how the characters feel and instead lets you feel their hopes, loves and losses with them. It is a poignant and powerful book about the fight to live as you are in this world. Set in 1957 America, this novel follows the lives of Julius and Muriel, related by marriage, as they take risks, learn to love and try to live their lives - sometimes with the knowledge that who they love is a dangerous thing for them. This book does a lot to make you think about how far LGBTQ+ rights have come in the intervening years, but also so help you reflect on the lives still being lived in some countries where the difficulites seen in this novel are still extremely realistic. This is a truly character driven novel, and if you like to sit with characters and learn how to feel through them, this is an extra-ordinarily powerful novel. If, however, you really do need to be able to feel that there is a plot that is moving forward, maybe skip this one. If, like me, you love a character driven novel, read this book and then come talk to me about how much your heart kept breaking for Julius.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Celia Laskey

    Easily one of my favorite books of the last few years. I'm so excited it's finally out so I can talk about it with all my friends! First, the writing: so self-assured and gorgeous and evocative. I mean, the scene where Muriel tries an olive for the first time? I was there, putting an olive in my mouth and tasting it like I never had before. The characters: incredibly complex, and the way they're characterized is very subtle and effective. They're not always aware of what's going on in their own Easily one of my favorite books of the last few years. I'm so excited it's finally out so I can talk about it with all my friends! First, the writing: so self-assured and gorgeous and evocative. I mean, the scene where Muriel tries an olive for the first time? I was there, putting an olive in my mouth and tasting it like I never had before. The characters: incredibly complex, and the way they're characterized is very subtle and effective. They're not always aware of what's going on in their own heads or their motivations, which is true to life, and which drives the story forward. The story: some might call it slow but I was absolutely captivated by every page, and the slowness is part of the beauty and the message of this book, I think. Sometimes it can take a long time to realize who you really are and to build up the bravery to then live the life you want. As Pufahl said in an interview I read recently, "Sexuality is the central risk in a story about gambling generally, and the characters’ considerable bravery was a guiding light for me." I honestly can't recommend this book enough.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jennifer Myers

    The first descriptive words that come to mind are: tender - soul seeking - lyrical This story alternates chapters between Muriel, a 1950s young woman who is married but works two jobs outside the house (with her husband Lee) and Julius, Lee’s brother. Lee and Muriel make plans to put down roots and have Julius live with them, but Julius can’t commit and wanders the streets of Las Vegas, Tijuana and the southwest looking for Henry, the man with whom he felt alive. Muriel and Julius both have secre The first descriptive words that come to mind are: tender - soul seeking - lyrical This story alternates chapters between Muriel, a 1950s young woman who is married but works two jobs outside the house (with her husband Lee) and Julius, Lee’s brother. Lee and Muriel make plans to put down roots and have Julius live with them, but Julius can’t commit and wanders the streets of Las Vegas, Tijuana and the southwest looking for Henry, the man with whom he felt alive. Muriel and Julius both have secrets and are unsatisfied with their lives. There aren’t huge action filled chapters in this book, but rather a real look at how two different people can live such different lives. The reader wants to shake Julius and say “get a job and be safe” but at the same time you are rooting for him to find happiness. The same is true for Muriel- you are privy to her changes and growth and learn along with her. The descriptions of Las Vegas, the expansion of industry/suburbia in the US, and the feelings of being lonely are all written with so much vivid color that I felt I was there. It’s an understated story that you can’t help staying curious about - a nice change of pace read for me!

  15. 5 out of 5

    Brenda Scanzillo

    Hands down one of the best books of 2019. This book captures human emotion in such a stunningly raw way, painting beautiful, haunting scenes that will stay with you long after the book is finished. Julius’ desperate search for his lost love Henry is interspersed with images of a post-war country in a time of great change, where hotels advertise nuclear bomb tests in the desert to tourists and the interstate system is just rising up to transform the way we operate. Juxtaposed with Julius is the s Hands down one of the best books of 2019. This book captures human emotion in such a stunningly raw way, painting beautiful, haunting scenes that will stay with you long after the book is finished. Julius’ desperate search for his lost love Henry is interspersed with images of a post-war country in a time of great change, where hotels advertise nuclear bomb tests in the desert to tourists and the interstate system is just rising up to transform the way we operate. Juxtaposed with Julius is the story of his 21 year old sister in law, a midwestern girl who, at the time of Julius’ undoing, is experiencing an awakening in California. Another gorgeous LGBTQ story packed to bursting with all of the beautiful and ugly emotions that come along with being human from Riverhead Books. I will be recommending On Swift Horses to everyone.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Helen Carolan

    I honestly thought I'd lose the will to live while reading this one. Slow and going nowhere. Muriel works in a bar and picks up racing tips which she then uses at the local track. Meanwhile her brother in law Julius turns his knowledge of cheating to weed out other cheaters in Las Vegas. A real yawn fest.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Whitney Gaston

    I did not finish this book. I tried to read for my bookclub, but it just didn’t happen. I read over half the story and I just wasn’t invested or captured enlightened to keep going.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Afton Montgomery

    On the surface, this is a novel centered on gambling: horses, cards, horses again. Below the surface, though, it's about the ways that we gamble with ourselves-- and what's addictive in that. With sublime dexterity and perfect subtlety, Pufahl explores the pieces of her two characters-- a newlywed and her brother-in-law-- that they hide, the pieces that they trade and bury, the pieces that become their masks. On Swift Horses is the queer underbelly story of the American West that I didn't know I On the surface, this is a novel centered on gambling: horses, cards, horses again. Below the surface, though, it's about the ways that we gamble with ourselves-- and what's addictive in that. With sublime dexterity and perfect subtlety, Pufahl explores the pieces of her two characters-- a newlywed and her brother-in-law-- that they hide, the pieces that they trade and bury, the pieces that become their masks. On Swift Horses is the queer underbelly story of the American West that I didn't know I was dying for; I'd follow it into its own dance halls and horse races in a heartbeat.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Robert Meyer

    For the past several years, I chose to forego writing about read books as time constraints imposed this whittling. But, I recently read this book and agree with other writers that this author is someone who cannot be ignored. Writing about ordinary people’s lives is not easy. Making ordinary into interesting is an art. To make ordinary’s interesting into romantic is even more impressive. Pufahl does that. With Steinbeck-like agility, she follows a post-Korean War couple’s journey from plain Plain For the past several years, I chose to forego writing about read books as time constraints imposed this whittling. But, I recently read this book and agree with other writers that this author is someone who cannot be ignored. Writing about ordinary people’s lives is not easy. Making ordinary into interesting is an art. To make ordinary’s interesting into romantic is even more impressive. Pufahl does that. With Steinbeck-like agility, she follows a post-Korean War couple’s journey from plain Plains Kansas to the wild west of the California shore. Having to work dead end jobs, the American dream for Muriel and Lee is simple: a house with land and maybe a fence. Muriel’s sterile existence assures that neither she nor Lee will deliver one more statistic to the baby boom. Then, out of happenstance, Muriel tries something new. Something alluring. The track. And, after a relatively mild success, that life awakens an inner feeling which delivers her to the world of her brother in law, Julius. Instead of Okies, instead of dust bowl nomads, instead of hobos, instead of carnival workers – Pufhal takes us to another world of the forgotten and often unseen minority living among us. These people are handicapped, at least in society’s biased perspective. Unlike people of color, their “handicap” is invisible to the naked eye. They, though, have a way of seeing others who have the same. They know where to congregate with the others They know how to handle their “issue” discreetly. In the 1950's, homosexuality was very illegal, was very dangerous. There are beatings. There are military reprimands. And, more. But, love overcomes these hurdles, or at least it does in this book. And, so artfully it is done. Too often, books end as though the editor called the author to hurry up as a deadline was impending. Either an ending’s pace does not match the majority of the story, or it tries to sew up too many openings, or both. This book does neither. The beginning, and the ending, of this book are masterpieces of prose. In fact, the book is masterpiece of prose. And, that is why I am writing this. Not on the New York Times Best Seller List does not mean this is not one of the best books of year. In fact, I found about this book from the New York Times Book Section’s interview of another author. This is an author of great command. High School English teachers would be very wise to add this novel to Steinbeck, Harper Lee, and John Knowles. To be listed with those names, too much? No.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Sara Klem

    I don't really want to give this book a star rating because I can't decide. The writing is so dreamy, but in a way that's really fine-tuned rather than being flowery (and it taught me a lot of new words). I'm genuinely envious of Shannon Pufahl's talent. You feel like you're in a hazy Western film the entire time. The story itself is quietly heartbreaking and really beautiful. That said, I found myself skimming sections because there are a LOT of meandering descriptions of dreams (which, tbh, I I don't really want to give this book a star rating because I can't decide. The writing is so dreamy, but in a way that's really fine-tuned rather than being flowery (and it taught me a lot of new words). I'm genuinely envious of Shannon Pufahl's talent. You feel like you're in a hazy Western film the entire time. The story itself is quietly heartbreaking and really beautiful. That said, I found myself skimming sections because there are a LOT of meandering descriptions of dreams (which, tbh, I hate), memories, the characters walking around seeing various sights that don't impact the story, and wild animals doing wild animal things. A lot of it is clearly symbolism, but I really cared about the characters and the plot and these sections, for me, felt stagnant (even though they were still beautifully written). It's a very slow burner, and that doesn't make it bad, I just found myself getting impatient with it. I'd definitely recommend it to a certain type of reader and I'm glad I read it.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Doug

    3.5, rounded up. Although I ultimately liked this debut novel, there were a lot of 'issues' I had with it also, the primary one being that one is never quite sure through much of it what is motivating the characters, or what it is they are after (to be fair, the female protagonist probably ISN'T aware of what she wants till the final chapters, but still...). Individual scenes often crackle with energy and an almost noirish style, and the prose throughout is quite good. But oftentimes, scenes just 3.5, rounded up. Although I ultimately liked this debut novel, there were a lot of 'issues' I had with it also, the primary one being that one is never quite sure through much of it what is motivating the characters, or what it is they are after (to be fair, the female protagonist probably ISN'T aware of what she wants till the final chapters, but still...). Individual scenes often crackle with energy and an almost noirish style, and the prose throughout is quite good. But oftentimes, scenes just play out and you are left wondering - why are they doing that? Very frustrating. I'd still be interested in whatever the author comes up with next though.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Anton Prosser

    This is an achingly beautiful book about finding your way to love.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Fizah(Books tales by me)

    Won this ARC in a giveaway...Read 50 pages but it isn't my cup of tea...

  24. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    I picked up this book because I saw it reviewed by @whatstevereads. When I saw it was blurbed on the back by Anthony Marra and Justin Torres, I knew I had to check it out. In 1950s America, the soldiers have returned home from World War II and try to establish life in a changed country. The economy is growing as the Cold War is escalating. People are building ranch homes in the desert and sipping cocktails while watching the government detonate nuclear bombs. Muriel is a newly-married woman who I picked up this book because I saw it reviewed by @whatstevereads. When I saw it was blurbed on the back by Anthony Marra and Justin Torres, I knew I had to check it out. In 1950s America, the soldiers have returned home from World War II and try to establish life in a changed country. The economy is growing as the Cold War is escalating. People are building ranch homes in the desert and sipping cocktails while watching the government detonate nuclear bombs. Muriel is a newly-married woman who moved with her husband from rural Kansas to the growing San Diego in pursuit of the American dream. She spends her days waiting tables and sneaking off to the racetrack to bet on horses. At the same time, her brother-in-law, Julian, was supposed to meet his brother and his wife to build a house of their own. But Julian has slipped off to Vegas performing surveillance of a casino from it’s rafters. When his coworker and lover, Henry, is chased out of Vegas, Julian follows him to Mexico to find him. This book is moody and atmospheric. Every aspect of the American west in the 50s is luxuriously described so the reader feels immersed in the setting. The language is glorious with beautiful description and precise metaphor to evoke emotion. However, this book is not heavily plotted, and while gorgeous, the language made it difficult at times for me to understand exactly what’s going on. I enjoyed the book and I would read another by the author. ★★★★★ • Hardcover • Fiction - Literary • Borrowed from the San Jose Public Library. ◾︎

  25. 5 out of 5

    Alice

    I found this book fascinating. It is an unusually well-written, rather poetic novel. The setting is well drawn and the characters are multi-dimensional and interesting. I couldn't stop reading it and stayed up late to finish it. Highly recommended.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Matthew

    The downfall of an incredible debut novel- there are no other books by the author to seek out. What does one do? As I finished this novel, I thought about starting over. Perhaps, skimming. Perhaps, picking random pages. The writing, the characters, the story- incredible! I went into this one with very little expectations. A wonderful experience.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eames

    I'm so glad to have been sent an advance copy of this book! It's a little outside what I usually read, but it was great foray into a slightly different genre. The thing that I probably loved most about this was that I could smell the settings and feel the seasons. The descriptions of the environment are so evocative and I really felt like I was there. The queerness felt both loving and honest as well. I'm gonna hide one content warning for spoilers but would definitely recommend. Read if you like I'm so glad to have been sent an advance copy of this book! It's a little outside what I usually read, but it was great foray into a slightly different genre. The thing that I probably loved most about this was that I could smell the settings and feel the seasons. The descriptions of the environment are so evocative and I really felt like I was there. The queerness felt both loving and honest as well. I'm gonna hide one content warning for spoilers but would definitely recommend. Read if you like the plays of Sam Shepard. (view spoiler)[Some homophobia throughout (mostly between the lines), but specifically in the chapter "The Border" toward the end there is a violent, anti-gay attack and then some descriptions of treating the wounds outside of a medical setting which I could see also being something you wouldn't want to read. Also for gambling throughout. (hide spoiler)]

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    This was a difficult book for me. The repetitive sentence structure...I opened to a page about Julius: "The next morning, after work, he plays the seven card table...He tries again at Binions...He sits for ten minutes at the Lucky Strike...He walks several blocks from downtown." I just opened to a random page and found this passage. Only one sentence broke the pattern and the pattern began to bore me. I felt I were reading the entire thing through a dust or sand storm. Not only the physical plac This was a difficult book for me. The repetitive sentence structure...I opened to a page about Julius: "The next morning, after work, he plays the seven card table...He tries again at Binions...He sits for ten minutes at the Lucky Strike...He walks several blocks from downtown." I just opened to a random page and found this passage. Only one sentence broke the pattern and the pattern began to bore me. I felt I were reading the entire thing through a dust or sand storm. Not only the physical places where the story occurred, but the character's emotional tenor. People aren't sure what they really want, their emotional lives seem like deserts redeemed by sex, gambling and drinking. Occasionally actual love redeems two people for a while...but particularly for Julius and Henry, the aftermath of their love is utterly destructive. There's theft, violence, cheating at cards, lies, all the things that wreak havoc in human lives. I got very tired of it...although there are passages that are either profound or poetic. I wouldn't have wanted to live on the edge of San Diego by the river, or in Tijiuana in the 1950's given Pufahl's description even though Muriel and Lee find the beauty in their land and the surrounding desert and farmland. I loved the layering of the character's childhoods over their struggles in the present. It'd beautifully rendered. Andrew Marra, one of my favorite authors, gave a rave reveiw that I read on the back cover. He writes "As an exploration of life lived on the outer distances of plain sight, it is suffused with hazard and touched my grace..." I'd agree, but the scrim of bad weather--sandy, dusty or rainy, and the haze of long walks rendered in incredible physical detail, left me cold. Perhaps It's because I had just read Marcy Dermansky's "Very Nice," which is technicolor dark comedy about ultra modern characters, soap-opera plot, and quick witty dialogue and description. Muriel takes to betting on horses, and is stunned by her luck. "If there was such good luck in the world, and it could outpace her own agency and her own knowledge, then bad luck must be the same. She has been seen and accommodated by luck and she wants out of its sightline." I think it was a line like this that kept me reading. So many dull (to me) passages, ended with an insight like that one.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan

    This is the kind of book that entered my bones as a reader, seeping in from day one. It was almost like the first time I watched the opening scene of Brokeback Mountain, with the music and shot of the truck's headlights, and I knew before seeing any characters that it was going to be a great film. I've tried not to reveal too much plot here. The story concerns a young couple, Muriel and Lee who have moved from Kansas to San Diego, and are awaiting the arrival of Lee's brother Julius. Both the bro This is the kind of book that entered my bones as a reader, seeping in from day one. It was almost like the first time I watched the opening scene of Brokeback Mountain, with the music and shot of the truck's headlights, and I knew before seeing any characters that it was going to be a great film. I've tried not to reveal too much plot here. The story concerns a young couple, Muriel and Lee who have moved from Kansas to San Diego, and are awaiting the arrival of Lee's brother Julius. Both the brothers have recently been in the Korean War, but due to an incident, Julius had to remain longer in service than Lee. Muriel works in a diner frequented by horse racing gamblers. Instead of going to be with his brother and sister-in-law, Julius ends up in Las Vegas. The plot focuses on Muriel and Julius as each searches for a way to live the lives they want to live. We know that Julius is gay from the outset, and that Muriel has secrets. Julius's story takes him from Las Vegas to Muriel's and Lee's place and then away again, while Muriel is on a journey of personal discovery that involves both an introduction to the local Del Mar racetrack and an understanding that her marriage is not all she wants out of life. The writing is serious, with only a few comic asides, but it reflects the nature of the plot and the lives of the characters who have to hide their true selves from most people, apart from those who like themselves are mostly living double-lives. This is post-Korean War, but also the time of frequent bomb tests in the Nevada desert, and the paranoia that has gripped the nation (world?) over the successful launch of the Russian Sputnik satellite, all of which add to the sober feel of the book. There aren't many books I would compare with John Steinbeck's grander novels, but there is something about On Swift Horses, that would make me recommend it to anyone who enjoys him.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Marisa Turpin

    I finished this book last night. It took a little longer for me to read than usual even though it was only 306 pages long. I found myself stopping to look up words, such as "aporetic," "penumbral," "consanguinity." I always felt like I had an impressive vocabulary, but Ms. Pufahl definitely has me beat! I often complain when fish tastes "too fishy," and at times I did find this book too "wordy." The author could definitely go on and on about things in detail. (Sometimes I was enamored and quite I finished this book last night. It took a little longer for me to read than usual even though it was only 306 pages long. I found myself stopping to look up words, such as "aporetic," "penumbral," "consanguinity." I always felt like I had an impressive vocabulary, but Ms. Pufahl definitely has me beat! I often complain when fish tastes "too fishy," and at times I did find this book too "wordy." The author could definitely go on and on about things in detail. (Sometimes I was enamored and quite enjoyed this, but other times it was like my "too fishy" fish).

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