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Book: Wounded, by Percival Everett

Thu 19 Apr 2007 In: Books View at Wayback View at NDHA

The spectre of Matthew Sheppard hangs over 'Wounded' by Percival Everett, a novel set in the American mid-West replete with horses and cowboys, homophobia and racism. But having said that, it's not quite what you'd expect. Arguably this is one of those 'gay' novels, you know the ones: relegated to genre-less tables of pink-and-silver-spined tomes in Unity Books. However, it transcends such a classification upon reading. It's a cinematic book that brings to mind North Country and Brokeback Mountain before it evokes literary comparison (although is much, much better); and in much the same way as the latter it is a gay-story-for-straights - but with its heart clearly in the right place. The main character is rancher John Hunt, a black man who is not at all homophobic, as a furore emerges in the small town after a hate crime is committed and a gay man found slaughtered and hanging in the desert. One's inner monologue can't help but become a Southern drawl as cowpokes and strappin' lasses eat moose steaks and break in wild horses. But it's not as clichéd as that: in fact, the undermining of cliché and stereotype is an active theme and one that stands 'Wounded' apart from the rest. John Hunt, as a black man, is obviously no stranger to prejudice, and that type of prejudice takes place here, and no doubt author Everett's own experiences colour this writing. And when the fanfair of the 'gay-hate-crime trial' arrives in town, with an old friend's gay son in tow, Hunt's views of homosexuality are bought to the fore. However, Hunt is totally blasé about homosexuality: he finds it different and relatively unusual for the location, but not much more than that. This is contrasted with Neo-Nazis and infuriatingly loveable country-folk who still say that being gay is wrong. It's this challenging of preconceptions that is so wonderful and gay character Robert - totally priggish and annoying - is the gay readers' own surprise incarnate. Hunt no more cares about homosexuality than he does a wandering mule in his backyard - both he ponders and both cause irritation, but nothing major. Thus the traditional gay view of rural life as being somehow backward is totally up-ended: it almost seems as if it is the city life that creates just as much persecution and phobia in the world of this story. And, perhaps, our own. How much homophobia exists only because we expect it to? So in many ways, if 'Wounded' was a 'gay' novel, it's also a 'black' novel; above all else, it's charmingly witty, laugh-out-loud funny in parts, and wholly modern. Ruth Ozeki's prose is evoked here (My Year of Meat, All Over Creation) and one truly does feel for the characters. Amusingly, lead character John Hunt says he would no more loathe a gay public display of affection than he would a straight one, but then spends the rest of the book becomingly saccharine-lovesick with a cowgirl. The ending is tense after pages of languid humour. The story - which is almost a short story in its ambition - builds itself to a literally ambiguous but obvious ending that satisfies but makes for an uncomfortable morality. There's nothing new in the novel, really, which probably says more about the human condition than the author. It says a lot that one of the main detractions from the book is that publisher Faber needs to sack their typesetter. Enjoyable and brief, and extremely understated. Brad Schmidt - 19th April 2007    

Credit: Brad Schmidt

First published: Thursday, 19th April 2007 - 12:00pm

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