Outland by Kiernan Kelly
Living on the down low in their small Bible Belt town is just a fact of life for Hank and Beaver, two lovers who’ve been together for twenty-five years. They’ve always kept to themselves, careful not to make waves, particularly since their town is home to an infamous anti-gay preacher and his rabid congregation, who go out of their way to make sure that not one queer stone is unturned, including the only gay bar within a hundred miles.
When small town bigotry forces them out of the closet they’ve shared for a quarter century, they find their love, their friends, and their very lives in jeopardy. Everything spirals out of control until at last, backs to the wall, Hank and Beaver choose to fight back. From the betrayal of friends to outright violence, they’re not sure if they’ll survive the war with their hides ~ and their love ~ intact.
Sometimes, a bar is more than just a building. Sometimes, it’s a belief.
Let me first say that I still dislike the cover. I’m sorry! I still think it’s hideous with a dead bird nailed to a board with garish letters. I now realize the significance and it relates to the story very well but there are many other ways of doing this cover well sadly. But if you’re like me and are turned off by the dead bird on the cover, I can suggest you move beyond it and get to the story because it’s really good. This is a solid story that involves numerous issues including bigotry, homosexuality, small towns, life partnerships, betrayal, and standing up for the right to love. The story is bittersweet, beautiful, and full of colloquial affectations that give a certain flavor to the characters and dialogue. I wasn’t sure what to expect when I started the book but have to say that Hank and Beaver won me over in spite of the nickname Beaver. If you’re interested in an emotionally complicated story dealing with hard issues and no easy answers, then this well crafted tale will satisfy.
The story is about a long time couple, Hank and Beaver, who live in a small backward town in the Bible belt. Together these men decide to open a gay bar in their horse barn to give folks a place to gather and just be themselves. Predictably, the local clergy and devoted Christians aren’t happy and have no limits to their hatred. The real tension comes in two forms. First, the actions of the townspeople and how the couple and their close friends handle the problems. Second, whether Hank and Beaver should just leave and avoid the issues or if it’s more important to stay and fight regardless of the outcome and cost.
The book starts off slow with an unnecessary prolog. While it sets up the scene and gives an advance look at the events to come, all the information given in the prolog is repeated within the first few chapters. This repetition of information slows the pace and flow of the story initially and takes a bit for the real action to occur. Once you get by this though, the story becomes thoroughly engaging with a believable tension and gripping intensity. Some of the actions and choices are predictable and inevitable but that doesn’t take away from the story at all. In fact, it adds to the sense of foreboding that slowly builds chapter by chapter. The pace is very clever in never creating too much action at any one time, instead giving a cooling period after each significant event allowing the reader to recover from an emotional high while maintaining an uneasy, unresolved tension.
The story is told in first person point of view from Beaver’s perspective. He is a strong enough character and personality to hold the story, even though I truly hate that nickname. As a couple Hank and Beaver are wonderful to watch, both devoted and loving showing the affects of age and health problems on a passionate relationship. There are a few odd aspects such as their open relationship with Fargo and the out of character choices to keep details from each other, but on the whole it is a solid depiction of a couple in their fifties. They may not have the recovery time of younger men, but their love and passion fill any missing problems. The friendships created with their cast of friends adds texture and depth to the various characters and helps develop a well rounded story.
Although this story is a solid tale with several complex elements and a lot of action, there are a few dropped details. Some of the antagonists are more stereotypes of characters than unique personalities and their actions slightly over the top super-evil. Even the motivation of the Preacher felt forced and unrealistic. Additionally some storylines are ignored and never resolved along with the almost overwhelming affectations in the writing. These help give a texture and feel to the characters and story that fits the image of a small, backwater town where living in the closet is a must not an option. This kind of southern, cut off speech helps the story but is distracting at times and slightly overwhelming to the actual writing. This is unlikely to turn off any readers however and those fans of the author should be familiar with this style. For example:
See, Meridian is a real small town, only a half-spit bigger than a wide spot in the single, two-lane highway that passes through Haggerty County on its way to somewhere else. It’s a pimple stuck right smack in the middle of the Bible Belt’s ass, not even big enough to be a dot on a map. Folks here live in old, tired houses that seen their best days back before the First World War. Got us some even older homes, too, a few newer, and all of them scattered over acres of hardscrabble land. Other folk make do with trailers, mostly singles with a few doublewides thrown in here and there. Everywhere you look, you find hard-working folk who earn a living on hourly pay, people who know how to pinch a penny until it screams good and loud.
Overall, I really liked the story and was swept up in the drama and problems presented. Although the prose ran a little long with some unappealing but very familiar lines from the author, this shows an older couple can be just as attractive as those sexy twinks. Well crafted with incredible, believable tension and a solid story involving engaging, interesting characters will have you not wanting to put the story down.
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