This is my second encounter with the story. I read it a few years back and now I had the chance to experience the audio version. Having it read by an incredibly talented and well-matched narrator, Dorian Bane was a decidedly fantastic way to experience my ‘re-read’ of this book.
Sweetwater is a sleeper story in many ways. On the surface, it can feel like a slow moving almost boring and even a tad depressing story about a boy. But this is a deceptive one. The writer wrote a well-layered story. Like many a sluggish river, if one goes beneath the surface there is a strong, raging current. Sweetwater is Western in setting and era which gives it a gritty tone, but it also digs deep into the life of a young man coming of age and an older young man who is also somewhat lost.
Elijah is confused, hurting, and looking for a sense of self and his place in the world. He feels the differences in him from the other town folk because he is an orphan adopted by the town doctor, he’s deaf, and he is attracted to men. Elijah carries around guilt and confusion that allows him to be convinced that he only deserves to crawl and beg and feel pain and degradation for his sexual needs from the saloon owner. With the murder of his beloved Dr. Carter, Elijah is left angry and adrift.
But then Grady comes along. Grady is also an orphan who was taken in by his uncle and the family. His uncle gambled away the family ranch and now he and his cousins are left scratching out a living stealing small herds of cows and living off the largess of the man who got the ranch from his uncle. Grady hates the life they lead and sees it ending with a hangman’s rope.
His interest in the young Elijah leads him along a new path. Maybe Grady can think of a way to help them both.
The story in engaging and I appreciated it all over again with this latest encounter. Again, I was awed by the creation of each character including the controversial, Harlan Crane. He’s not exactly the bad guy, but he is very much a character who is all for self. He’s led a hard life and it tempered him of any gentleness or real goodness. He uses Elijah, but there are also brief glimpses of his sympathy, too. I found his place in the story as pivotal as Grady or Elijah even though he didn’t get a narrative part.
Beyond, the ambivalent Harlan Crane, Elijah and Grady were both endearing characters. I easily rooted them on as they figured things out and came into their own. Grady is almost there as he comes to realize he has to step out from the only family he has known and go it alone if he wants to have any chance at a future. Elijah is younger and his grief is new and raw as is his figuring out who he is and accepting it so much of the story is him growing and changing and feeling. Raw feeling defined Elijah.
In his search to discover himself, Elijah has some rough, erotic experiences. I wouldn’t call this true BDSM though there are elements of it. Crane likes to dominate and discipline, sure, and he likes kink, but it’s for himself and not a partnering. Elijah wants to be hurt and feel pain to gain resolution.
There is action and hard, gritty, and even brutal scenes that are set well into this Western story. The authentic tone and feel was right on the money.
The narrator added something to the story as always. Elijah’s pain and frustration particularly because of his deafness and how it made people perceive him really shone through as a result. Each character had a distinct accent that told a story in and of itself. Dr. Carter was cultured, polite, a little distant. Crane was southern overlaid with western and had a slimy snake-oil salesman feel. Grady was clean, cool plains. And Elijah, unable to hear his own voice struggles to be articulate and understandable, but so expressive. The surrounding cast were handled well, too.
All in all, I was thrilled to delve back into the Sweetwater story again and experience it anew. I would definitely recommend it to those who enjoy gently paced character driven gritty m/m western romance.
My thanks to Riptide Publishing for the opportunity to listen to this book in exchange for an honest review.
Romance Roundabout #280 LGBT
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