“There are many harsh lessons to be learned from the gambling experience, but the harshest one of all is the difference between having Fun and being Smart.” — Hunter S. Thompson

The desire to seek out the unknown, to explore new and foreign terrain is an inherently human drive. We move, we travel hoping to test our luck in new places with new people. We take a chance and roll the dice on fate, gambling with our present, with the optimism for a future we can only dream about. This element of risk runs through our latest read, which transports readers out West in the 1950s.

On Swift Horses by Shannon Pufahl

In her debut novel, Shannon Pufahl took her inspiration from her Vegas loving grandmother and hit the ground running. “On Swift Horses” revolves around two people brought together through a marriage, but find they share an unspeakable connection. Muriel marries Lee after the sudden death of her mother and agrees to leave her life behind in Kansas for the promise of what her life might hold with him and his compelling brother, Julias. When Muriel arrives in California she’s disappointed to learn that her brother-in-law has vanished and finds her life with just her husband to be lacking. When her job opens the door to horse racing to her, Muriel finds that she has a lucky hand with the ponies and secretly visits the racetrack and hides her wins from Lee. Elsewhere Julias is living and working in Vegas, where he works at a casino when he’s not trying his own luck at the poker table. Both Lee and Muriel share a passion for gambling and it’s through that they’re both able to explore the hidden world of the LGBT community together and feel the freedom to explore who they truly are.

Pufahl paints a vivid landscape of the Western expansion as the backdrop to her character’s widening emotional horizons. Her story captures the thrill of gambling and the risk of falling in love in a time when society was staunchly unwilling to permit people to love who they love.

From the book jacket…

“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.”

If you enjoy…

Readers who enjoy “On Swift Horses” might also enjoy André Aciman’s novel “Call Me By Your Name,” which follows the relationship between two young men in Italy.