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The Filly Paperback – 12 Oct 2007
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Escaping into the fantasy of his books when he's not working in the general store, Ethan Keller has lived a sheltered life in his mother's boarding house. One day, an enigmatic cowboy passing through the small Texas town takes an immediate liking to the shy seventeen-year-old. Ethan is intrigued by the attention, and the cowboy eventually charms him into signing on to a 900-mile cattle drive. Ethan soon finds that his feelings for this cowboy run deeper than just friendship. He never knew that this kind of love even existed; and now for the two of them to make a life together in the untamed west, they must face nearly insurmountable odds if they are to survive.
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The author does well to capture the essence of the time, with many events & characters feeling small in such well defined open spaces and environments. Although the text is very 'High School' written - this book could easily be read be read by a secondary school student, with limited offense caused - the story is lovely and the characters are brought to life through vivid descriptions.
For a gay novel, sex scenes are limited and mostly glossed over but the overall story is spirited. If you have a general interest in the wild west and wonder how gay coyboys might have gone about their business, then have a read of this....!
Ethan's never considered a life beyond the sheltered reach of a dutiful second son trying to keep his older brother, Willie, out of trouble, finding snippets of time to indulge his love of reading and dreaming of buying a colt or filly of his own some day.
All of that changes when a charismatic and persistent young cowboy named Travis Cain walks into his life.
Sensing a kindred spirit, Travis dares Ethan to dream beyond that which he's ever dared, and soon convinces Ethan to sign on to the Hayward Ranch's summer cattle drive. During the journey from Texas to Cheyenne, Ethan and Travis test the limits of their endurance, explore the bonds of true friendship, and discover a love that will eventually risk everything they hold dear.
In THE FILLY, author Mark R. Probst combines the tender beauty of love - be it the blossoming romance between two young men at a time when the only term to characterize their relationship came in the form of Biblical condemnation, the fierce protectiveness of families for their own, or friendships forged in the most dire of circumstances - with the gritty, bare-boned realism of life in the old west.
There were a few times when I was jarred from the narrative by an inconsistency of language, a bit of cardboard characterization among many of the novel's secondary players, and an ending that came too abruptly for my personal taste, but these factors were far outweighed by the depth and sensitivity in Mr. Probst's depictions of Ethan, Travis, and their relationship.
Reviewed by: Cat
The story in a nutshell: Handsome cowboy Travis, new in town, breezes into the general store where he encounters teenaged bookworm Ethan. Sparks fly. Travis finds work at the local ranch. Travis and Ethan become friends and Travis talks Ethan into signing onto a 900-mile cattle drive. En route, Ethan spies Travis bathing in the river and the sight of the water glistening off his lean, well-muscled frame makes the young man go all light-headed (as all the blood rushes from his head down into his quivering young loins). There's much more to the story of course, but it isn't very long so I don't want to give anything else away.
There are a few stock characters in the book (some of the other cowboys are fairly interchangeable, for example), but they all add to the rustic, "Zane Grey" feel of the book, so it's okay. As to the main characters, Travis and Ethan, they are both well-developed and highly likeable, and the evolution of their relationship is both touching and believable. Now, for those of you looking for a one-handed read, you won't find it here. What sex there is in the book is mostly implied, which makes it an ideal read for teens as well as adults.
Being an author myself, I quibble a bit with a few of the author's word choices, but none of those really interfered with my overall enjoyment of the book enough so that I feel they need to be mentioned here. All in all, "The Filly" is a great first novel. It grabbed me early and kept me wanting to turn the pages right up through to the end. I look forward to reading Mark Probst's future works.
- Pat Nelson Childs, author of The Chronicles of Firma
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that Ernest Hemingway wrote. To compare Proulx to Probst would be like comparing Thomas Wolfe to Ernest Hemingway trying to decide which author is the best. It can't and shouldn't be done because they both should be read with their own unique writing styles in mind.
Mark Probst wins the reader over by creating two very likable main characters who both just happen to be male and who fall in love immediately as if they have been struck by lightning the second they first meet. I think the drawing card for each of them is that they are so different from each other. Ethan is younger (17) and is a sheltered bookworm who up to the point of their meeting has lived vicariously through the books he reads. Travis is older (22) and has already been away from home for several years and has been on several cattle drives already. We discover as the story unfolds that Travis has already had some sexual experiences with both females and males but what is missing in his life, is that one person that he can really love. He finds that in Ethan and he has to find a way to incorporate Ethan into his life on a daily basis so he convinces him to join the cattle drive to Wyoming.
The fact that Ethan and Travis are in love and not in lust with each other makes it quite acceptable that Probst doesn't include scenes of erotic love making between the two men. We're still able to read between the lines; often we can imagine far better scenarios than what might have been written down to titillate us. Just as the horror in Alfred Hitchcock's movies were achieved by letting us imagine what happened rather than showing us, Probst is more successful many times by leaving things out of his writing than if he had chosen to put them in.
The lesser characters in the book are as vividly drawn as the two main characters and not one character is superfluous to the plot. Probst brilliantly finds a way to include the stumbling block to the success of Ethan's and Travis' love and he is faithful and true to the time and place about which he is writing. He doesn't give us an easy and unrealistic conclusion yet he does give us a satisfactory one and the book is one from which all age groups and sexual orientations can read, enjoy, and learn.
The romance is very slowly built, which I appreciated. Too often, characters fall in love in a couple paragraphs with no support for it. Not so here. Part one of the book is mostly about Ethan's life living with his mother and brother, and working in the general store. After meeting Travis, they decide to go on a cattle drive together. This is where the romance develops, though the pacing of the story remains constant. Travis helps Ethan learn the ways of being a cowboy and about hiding his nature for his own protection. Yet, despite the very real danger of being outed as a homosexual, Travis has a very optimistic nature. This drive is over three months long, and it is easy to believe the two would become close. So, when Travis and Ethan decide to go into business together and raise horses it fits the story just right. The cattle drive was my favorite, and I think the best written, part of the novel. The two men get to know each other, have conversation, swim together, etc. There is no explicit sex in "The Filly," but the men obviously have a physical relationship. The implied sex works much better for the nature of this romance than something more graphic. The reader gets glimpses into what it must have been like to travel 20 miles a day by horse, herding cows, crossing a desert without much water and sleeping for months in a tent. It was an intense experience, for them and for the reader. However, part three left me with mixed emotions.
The next paragraph (only) contains a slight SPOILER:
I try to avoid even small spoilers in my reviews but couldn't articulate my problem without revealing a bit of the story. Ethan goes to visit Travis' family before starting their new life. Rumors of their relationship surface, and Ethan ends up being brought to trial for a crime he didn't commit. Now, I was expecting something to happen to upset the romance and provide angst. However, what happened left me feeling unsettled. Despite the OBVIOUS lack of evidence, Ethan is convicted. Though this result is perfectly realistic, it didn't work for a romantic story - which this was up until these events. And, why would Ethan's lawyer choose a jury trial in such an obviously biased town? I knew right then he would be convicted (though I was truly hoping not!) Second, I felt like Travis put Ethan at risk all along. Not by starting the relationship, but by insisting they stay in a hotel instead of with his family and by not realizing that Ethan is young and vulnerable. He's supposed to be older and more experienced, but he left Ethan alone when he knew they were in danger. I won't go into more detail because I don't want to ruin it, but Travis' actions in the last third of the book made the character almost selfish. "The Filly" does have the prerequisite happy ending of a romance. However, having Ethan go to prison soured it somewhat - it was too much of a stretch for Ethan to literally walk out of prison into a happily ever after with Travis. I think the ending would've worked better (for me) if Ethan and Travis had had to spend months rebuilding their relationship, and Ethan healing from what must have been a horrifying experience in prison.
When I finished this novel right before I went to bed, I lay awake thinking about it for a very long time. The characters stayed with me. That is one of the best things I can say about any novel. Though the ending didn't sit quite right with me, the overall story was excellent, the romance well developed, and the writing top notch. So, I have no hesitation in recommending this to others. This was much more than a cookie-cutter romance.
The Filly stands out because of Ethan's transition into understanding the nature of his feelings for Travis. He has no frame of reference since, for Ethan, it wasn't that homosexuality was wrong; it was that it didn't even exist. Ethan's emotional and intellectual revelations are handled extremely well, drawing the reader right into the story with him.
On a technical note: Amazon is listing the price of The Filly as $14.00 with no discount. The retail price, as shown on the back of the book, is $15.99, so Amazon is actually offering almost $2.00 off.