While it evokes the wild, untamable, and gritty essence of a western filled with free-spirited adventure, romance, and danger, at its core beats a tender and vulnerable heart. Everything's a high-stake gamble and our protagonists—despite the secrets they'e burdened with—allow themselves to get carried away. Refreshingly queer with a palpable sense of longing and lush beauty.
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 promises them everything.
About the Author
Shannon Pufahl grew up in rural Kansas. She teaches at Stanford University, where she was a Stegner Fellow in fiction. Her essays have appeared in The Threepenny Review and elsewhere, on topics ranging from John Brown and the antebellum Midwest, to personal memoir. She lives in the Bay Area with her wife and their dog.
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“Imagine a cross between Revolutionary Road and Battleborn (with a little bit of Brokeback Mountain thrown in) and you might end up with something akin to Pufahl’s debut, a rich and rugged suburban western about dreams deferred and living defiantly.” —O, the Oprah Magazine
“Achingly beautiful . . . Pufahl's language glitters from the page . . . [a] restless, blistering fever dream that feels a lot like life.” —Nylon
"Filled with such rhythmically lovely, splendidly evocative, and masterfully precise descriptions...it feels like Pufahl could not possibly have said what she needed to say with any other words." —Kirkus Reviews (starred review) “Powerful . . . Peopled by singular characters and suffused with a keen sense of time and place, Pufahl’s debut casts a fascinating spell. This melancholy story will show up in the dreams of those whose heartstrings it has tugged.” — Publishers Weekly
“Once in a rare while you come across a novel of such transfixing beauty that it enlarges your faith in the medium itself. On Swift Horses is, for me, one of those books. As an exploration of life lived in the outer distances of plain sight, it is suffused with hazard and touched by grace, furnished with the longevity of a postwar classic and the immediacy of the present tense. It is, simply put, a masterpiece.” —Anthony Marra, author of A Constellation of Vital Phenomena
“On Swift Horses is about both risk and the risqué, about daring to know, name, and act on our own desires. Read this book for the adventure, for the keening lyricism of the lost and searching, but mostly read this book because no one writes like Shannon Pufahl. Her voice is muscular, awesome, and pure. This book knocked me flat on my back.” —Justin Torres, author of We the Animals
"On Swift Horses is a marvel, a beautifully written novel that traces its raw, guarded characters from California to Las Vegas to Mexico with grace and inevitability. Shannon Pufahl’s mid-century West is dead-on right, as recognizable as a box of old photos and yet completely original in voice and scope." —Jess Walter, author of Beautiful Ruins
“On Swift Horses is a wild ride on a stolen horse looking for home, a gorgeously imagined search for lost time, lost luck, lost landscapes, and wrenched-apart hearts, a deep-souled epic of the American West.” —Elizabeth Tallent