Rating 5 stars out of 5
Henry “Hank” Woods has always known he was gay but coming out as a teenager saw Hank thrown off his family’s farm and estranged from his father. But Hank persevered, and now at the age of twenty-five, Hank owns his own farm in Australia’s rural southwest. Raising his own flock of sheep and growing crops often isn’t enough so Hank supplements his income from the property with seasonal shearing. Over the years Hank’s talent has earned him the title of “shearing gun”—an ace shearer able to shear large numbers of sheep in a single day, a title that brings a higher fee and an increased number of jobs. And Hank won’t risk any of his hard earned gains or trust that the large sheep bosses will hire a “gay” shearer, so Hank remains firmly in the closet.
Enter Dr. Elliot Stockton-Montgomery, a city-born and educated transplant to the country. Elliot’s reasons for choosing to practice in the small close-knit community of Dumbleyung in Western Australia are many. Primarily, Elliot is paying off this college debt by agreeing to work in a rural area needing doctors until his loans are paid off. But he soon figures out that being an out gay in this somewhat conservative area is not a wise decision, although he isn’t sure how successful he is at hiding his sexuality. Especially when he comes in contact with Hank Woods.
When a football injury brings Hank to Elliot’s attention, an inappropriate sexual glance, a stuttered apology, and a rejected doctor’s prescription of rest afterward kickstarts their friendship. A friendship that slowly turns into something more. But Elliot is truly a brilliant surgeon and the offers pour in daily from the large cities and hospitals looking to lure him away. And Hank? He’s still in the closet. And in Elliot’s mind and heart, a closeted existence and hidden relationship is not a place he wants to be.
So many hard decisions to make and obstacles to overcome to HEA. Will the chance for love and a lasting relationship be enough to bring Hank out of the closet and keep Elliot happy in a small rural town? Both are about to find out the answer in The Shearing Gun.
The Shearing Gun by Renae Kaye is one of those heartwarming, enduring stories I will go back to read over and over again. For many reasons this story captured my heart and imagination and has refused to let them go long after I finished this story. It is both a comfort read suitable for cold nights and comfy airchairs as well as a heartwarming romance that never gets old. I think when I look back on 2014, Renae Kaye will be in the top five of those authors whose stories I loved and list of new authors discovered.
Australia is a country I have always wanted to visit and the profession of sheep shearer, a prime element here, has always fascinated me. I have watched sheep shearing contests here at Maryland’s Sheep & Wool Festival where shearing guns from around the world compete for prizes. But The Shearing Gun made these men and women and their profession come alive in a way that merely watching them on a stage never did. Kaye’s descriptions of a day’s shearing, the “zone” the shearers get into where the cuts are precision made, the fleece slides cleanly off, and animals switched swiftly in and out, all to raucus tunes and the smell of lanolin and sweat. Well, the visceral impact of those descriptions and scenes upon the reader is enormous. I swear I could feel the swelter of the tents and buildings filled full of animals and people, a cacophony of sounds, and smells, and the heat that goes on and on. And the people involved, each with their own role to play in getting huge flocks of sheep sheared in a short amount of time, what variety in sex, age, and training. It’s amazing. The exhilaration and pride of the quick clean shear, the rush and enthusiasm of the moment, it just flies off the page to our delight and wonder.
Everything here is on a large scale, from the enormous herds brought in to shear, the high volume of food consumed (and described in rich detail), right down to the quality of fleeces and sheep per hour a shearing gun can cut. All these elements fill this story full of rich layers giving it a depth and dimension that makes every part of The Shearing Gun sing with life and love. This story is a vivid journey, both for the reader and for two men on the path to happiness and a forever relationship.
How I fell in love with the characters I met in The Shearing Gun. And not just the main characters of Hank Woods and Dr. Elliot Stockton-Montgomery, no, its also Middy, Big D, Little D, Old Doc Larsen and Gloria, and all the rest of the inhabitants of Dumbleyung. And yes, there is a Dumbleyung, which I discovered to my joy. Dumbleyung,( population 605 as of 2011) and the Shire of Dumbleyung, well, just the names alone have a magnetism all their own, just as Elliot discovers early on. Dumbleyung is as much a main character of this story as all the others. Do I want to go there? Yes, most emphatically so.
But before I fell in love with the townsfolk and Dumbleyung, first I met and loved Hank and Elliot. The story is told from Hank’s pov and Renae Kaye imbues this character with a unique voice and regional perspective. We never forget that the land and his farm are a deep part of who Hank is. His love and knowledge of both are almost on a cellular level and the author is able to relay this to the reader by bringing us into Hank’s mind and heart. We are there when he arrives in the clinic expecting to see Old Doc Larson and meets city doc and transplant Elliot instead. What follows is amusing, telling, and so authentically perfect that I have to include a small excerpt below:
“My apologies,” he said with a smile. “I didn’t realize I hadn’t introduced myself. I’m Doctor Elliot Stockton-Montgomery. How do you do?”
In my mind I winced at his pretentious name and pretentious words and wondered if it hurt having that plank permanently stuck up his arse. “Shit, Doc. I’m here at the clinic on a bloody Sunday; how the hell do you think I’m doing?”
That earned me another twitch of his mouth. “Yes… well.” He cleared his throat. “So tell me what you’ve done to yourself and we’ll see about fixing you up.”
“Meself?” I snorted. “You think I’d do this to me-self? Nah, it was them bloody mongrels from Corrigin. They can’t kick a footy straight, so they hit you hard to try ’n’ knock you out so’s you don’t know which is the arse end of your dog. Them wallies jumped on me in the second quarter. Three of them. It was fucking Big D MacDonald who took me for a flyer, and then his brother and cousin used me like a trampoline. Hard. The wankers. I showed them, though. Got me a fifty-meter and thumped that red turkey through. Then three more times that quarter and once in the third before Coach yanked me because I dropped a sitter when I didn’t use me sore arm.”
The Doc blinked a couple of times through my explanation, but to his credit he didn’t drop his eyes. “Let me get this straight,” he asked. “You were playing football against a team from Corrigin, whose skills were poor, so they tried to make up for it by rough play. One player threw you to the ground and two others sat on you. You received a penalty and a shot at scoring. You scored a goal, then four more before, until about forty minutes after your initial injury, the coach of your team made you stop playing because you didn’t catch the ball cleanly?”
I frowned at him. “Yeah. Isn’t that what I just said?”
Yes, there are AUS terms and profanities galore, luckily, there is also an Australian glossary provided by the author. I ended up using it to my endless amusement. The humor as well as Elliot’s “fish out of water” situation is highlighted by the dialog the streams out of Hank’s mouth even as he’s bleeding all over the floor. But Elliot’s education is just beginning. After rejecting (obviously) Elliot’s prescribed 8 weeks of rest, Elliot ends up at Hank’s farm and ends of spending the day working alongside him. Last excerpt (I could quote this story all day):
He climbed into the middle of the bench seat without prompting and regarded me with a puzzled look. “Then why the fencing lesson today unless you wanted to prove that I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was?”
I turned the key and pressed in the clutch, waiting for him to put me in first gear before answering. “It wasn’t about proving you were smart or not. It was more about teaching you what we do as farmers. So when you get a guy in who requires stitching up because he tried to do a two-man job by himself, you won’t make him feel like a child for his stupidity. Because he knows it was wrong, but if he didn’t do that job right then, it could’ve meant losing a year’s worth of crop because the cattle got in the paddock. Farming’s a harsh business. We don’t have the luxury of waiting around until someone pops by to help us. We work our guts out. And that bull that just broke the leg of the guy in your clinic? He may be angry with the animal, but that bull is worth the money, because selling him next year will pay the mortgage for two months. And the guy who caught pneumonia because he worked twenty hours a day in the rain to get his crop in? Well, it was either that or walk away from the land his family has farmed for over a century.”
I stopped at the gate and jumped out to open it. He was waiting for me when I climbed back in. “Do you think I made you feel stupid?”
I was through the gate and back out to close it again before I answered him. “You didn’t make me feel stupid, but you didn’t listen to what I said. There’s no way that any man in this district could simply rest for eight weeks. So you need to be aware of that and change your medical advice. So why don’t you tell me not to lift with my arm, watch not to bang it, and that I’m going to need help over the next eight weeks? Give me painkillers because you know I’m going to need them, and tell me that I’ll be right to go back to full duties by the end of August. Can you see the difference, Doc?”
He looked thoughtful and nodded.
A friendship has begun and we are only on page 26. But the heart and soul of Hank is right there, for Elliot and the reader to see and fall in love with. The more we get to know Elliot, his character and heart opens up before us much the same way. Trust me when I say these two men are characters you will find almost impossible to let go of at the end of the story. I still haven’t and I expect that I won’t anytime soon.
The author also addresses the very real challenges a gay or bisexual man will face in such a small homogeneous community, and the various responses one would expect…the bad, the good and the indifferent. This aspect of the story feels as real and complex as all the other elements that make The Shearing Gun one of the best of the year.
Run, don’t walk to the computer and pick this story up. It’s not only one of Scattered Thoughts and Rogue Words highly recommended reads but will be at the top of my favorite books of the year. Happy Reading!
Cover artist Paul Richmond. It works perfectly for the cast and plot of this story. Alive, a little rough and always colorful.
ebook, 214 pages
Published September 19th 2014 by Dreamspinner Press (first published September 18th 2014)