Review of Marathon Cowboys by Sarah Black

Standard

Rating: 5 stars

Navajo Lorenzo Maryboy is a former Marine who just mustered out of the service.  During his tour, he had started a cartoon called Devil Dog that became popular with the enlisted men and now seeks a mentor in Jesse Clayton, retired Marine and successful cartoonist in Marathon, Texas.

Jesse Clayton the third, or JC3 as they call him back in the San Francisco art world, is on his way to his  grandfather’s ranch in Texas, hoping to  use the spare art studio there and needing some away time from the frantic pace of life in the city. He’s feeling burned out and seeking inspiration. Out and proud but not always in tune with his common sense, Jesse makes a stop at a red neck bar in Alpine where his bus dropped him off.  Perhaps he really shouldn’t have worn those red shoes.  When he becomes a target of a group of drunks, Lorenzo Maryboy comes to his rescue and they both land in jail.  When Jesse calls his grandfather for bail money and a ride to the ranch, Lorenzo and Jesse discover that they share a common destination and need for a studio.

A decision to share the studio leads to both of them living under the same roof with The Original as Jesse’s grandfather is called. Long days in the studio and conversations over dinner lead to mutual attraction and then to love. But Jesse is an artist possessed by his art.  He won’t let anything stand between him and his pursuit of his vision, not even love.  When he commits an act of betrayal so huge that even his grandfather fears that Lorenzo’s love and trust are lost forever, Jesse finally decides what is important to him, Lorenzo.  The path Jesse takes to win back Lorenzo’s trust and love is more dangerous than he can imagine. Can Lorenzo forgive Jesse or will his muse prove to be the death of him?

Once again, Sarah Black has created characters so memorable that I revisit them often.  Her gift of characterization and locale has never shined so bright then it does here. Black sets the reader down on the bench next to these people, making us feel so much a part of their world that I felt bereft when it was time to go.  There is no such thing as a standard Black character as each new persona is its own unique creation, albeit one that you feel you could run into on a street in Texas or a gallery in San Francisco.  And when it comes to her settings, I know she has been there. Black has walked the paths, smelled the desert air and felt the heat rise off the streets in Arizona so vividly do her settings come alive.

Jesse Clayton the third is a wonderful character.  His city pretty boy exterior hides a driven to the point of obsession personality.  He is unexpected in so many ways.  Out and proud in San Francisco, he loves the frantic city life, with its parties and casual hookups but still requires the quiet isolation of a Texas ranch and his grandfather to center him. All the markers of an artist possessed by his muse are there from the beginning, and only Lorenzo is surprised when Jesse betrays his trust.  By the time this occurs, you have come to understand Jesse as thoroughly as his grandfather does.  You may not always like his actions but you still love him.

I will say this now that as wonderful a character as Jesse Clayton is, it is USMC Staff Sargent Lorenzo Maryboy and The Original (Jesse Clayton’s grandfather, a retired Marine and cartoonist) who captured my heart. The book is told from Lorenzo’s POV and Sarah Black makes these people come alive. You breath with them, you sit down at the table with a Shiner beer and steak with them and feel the grit and dryness of Marathon, Texas flow over you. Her descriptions are so real that I felt I was in the room looking at Jesse’s paintings or running the back alleys of the town with Lorenzo. Lorenzo Maryboy is proud of his ancestry, a Marine to his core, proud, honorable a man of few words. This is Lorenzo talking to Jesse as they leave the jail in Alpine:

“…Sugar Plum Fairy.’ It was a favorite around our house at Christmastime.”

“Gotcha. Okay, you can call me Mary, if you can’t remember Maryboy, and I won’t bust your ass. Don’t call me zo-zo. I’m gonna call you Jesse. JC sounds too much like Jesus Christ, and I am not calling you JC3. So, that’s names settled.

“What are you going to all The Original if you’re calling me Jesse?”

“I’m gonna call him Sir. ”

That’s Lorenzo in just a few sentences. He’s straightforward and succinct.  I love him.

That Sarah Black understands what it means to be a Marine is clear given her and her family’s military background.  Her Marine characters here also include The Original and Uncle George, the Sheriff in Alpine who served two tours of duty in Vietnam with Jesse’s grandfather.  The author understands and honors the Marine core values. It is evident in these men and the way in which she has them live their lives. While you may never fully comprehend what it means to be a Marine unless you are one, she brings us closer to an understanding with her portraits of these men.

Her books not only stay with me because of the memorable characters and places that populate her books but she also sends me scrambling to the computer to research a topic/thing/event that pops up in her books that I have never heard of, in this case Bath tub Marys. There is even a Appreciation of Bathtub Marys Society. An added bonus to be sure.

When I pick up a book by Sarah Black, my only two complaints are usually that they are too short and that the endings are sometime unsettled. She addressed both of these topics in her blog in a way that while she didn’t win me over to the shorter lengths in story telling, I certainly understood her point of view. Same goes for her endings….life does not give you pat endings tying up all loose ends and neither does Sarah Black. But here you get both a longer story (and yes, I found that so much more satisfying) and a ending that left me sated and happy. I laughed and cried with this book. It will certainly stay with me. Tonight I will most likely start the book over and delve into this town and its characters once again.

Cover: Cover art by the wonderful Anne Cain.  No more to be said.

Author Spotlight: Sarah Black here

Available at Dreamspinner Press, Amazon, and ARe.

Authors Website: Sarah Black Writes

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