Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Nathanial Goldsmith is the only son of the richest man in the Idaho territory, Jessum Goldsmith, the Silver Baron of the Western Lands, as he is called in all the newspapers. But life in the late nineteenth-century American West weaves no magic spell for Nathanial, who longs for the academic worlds his father has forced him to leave behind.
To toughen him up, Nathanial’s father has indentured him to a ranchman, Cayuse Jem, a large, raw-boned, taciturn man Nathanial’s father believes will help teach his son to “become a man.” Cut off from his books and the life he has always known, Nathanial is not only forced to co-exist with Cayuse Jem, but to truly get to know him. In doing so, Nathanial discovers there is more to this silent horseman than meets the eye. And, in the process, Nathanial also learns a few things about life, about human nature, and about the differences in being a man and a boy…
I love historical fiction and romance but I’m also very aware of exactly how difficult it is to get it right. Not only does the author have to craft a splendid plot, create multidimensional characters, give them chemistry with each other, as well as a romance to root for, but then they must place all that within the structure of a certain time period without making it look like a information dump. Or that they haven’t done any research at all (please don’t get me started in on the use of Wikipedia as research).
So yes, rare is the author or novel that pulls it all together and gets it right.
The Bibliophile by Drew Marvin Frayne gets it right.
The Bibliophile is essentially the journal of young Nathanial Goldsmith. It starts in September 1888 and ends in October 1890, three years that become a lifetime of growth. The first thing the reader notices is that the language is correct for the time period. Not modern in phrase or thought, it takes a while to adjust to Nathanial’s diary entries and internal dialog. But very soon, that strangeness of “the tongue” and era become second nature and you ease into Nat’s world and connect with someone on the turning point of his life.
I can’t being to say enough of how Frayne was able to draw me into the mind and heart of Nat, a young book lover who only wants to stay in college and become a teacher yet is doomed by the fact that that he is the only son of a wealthy, hard man determined to mold him into the image of the son he wants, not the person Nathanial actually is. The first entries are heartbreaking in their earnestness and honesty over his situation. He’s at college and knows he must return to Idaho and a family that holds him and book learning in little regard. And books are the only things he truly loves because he’s had so little of it in his life.
Nathanial has been away from the mansion his silver baron father calls home for a while so in many ways he’s younger than another boy who would have stayed on the frontier of Idaho. He’s not “tough” or manly as his father would have him. An altercation see’s his father sending him off to be an indentured servant to a brusk, somewhat wild rancher. And this is where the story will, I believe, hit home with most readers. The scenes where Nathanial is going through hardships he never believed of as a servant to Cayuse Jem are authentic, painful, and gritty. He’s a child of privilege now a servant performing chores he never dreamed of or knows how to do. Since the reader has come to care greatly for Nat, this is an especially hard section to get through.
It’s also the beginning of Nat’s training. Cayuse Jem starts to call him “boy”. If you see that in terms of sexual use, you would be correct. The relationship here is very much daddy/boy or dom/sub without the kink. Although the sexual relationship does not come until an emotional bond is developed and Nat is ready for a sexual one. He is also 18 when the journal starts. But over and over again, throughout the story, the rancher is training Nat, gentling him as though he is one of the wild horses he works with, to be his. They love either other, no question, however, there is a definite framework or dynamics to their relationship. There are numerous references to historic Greek practices of older men taking younger ones as lovers, also Nez Perce same sex couplings, are used as foundation material by the author. How the reader feels about all this will frame out how they will continue on with the story.
As a side thread to this is also an indelible storyline about two Nez Perce men who are incredibly important to Cayuse Jem and Nathanial. That would be Chuslum and Motsqueh. These two men will earn as deep a portion of your heart as Nat and Cayuse Jem do. From them we venture into the lifestyle of the tribe, the Indian wars, the current situation, medicine and culture. It’s a rich, vivid element of The Bibliophile and one for me that is perhaps my favorite.
As Nat’s journal entries continues, you forget almost that he’s writing…you are there walking alongside them during their daily duties, getting a feel for life as it was lived in Idaho in the late 1800’s, from the politics to the books read, the food eaten, and yes, even the clothes worn. The author naturally immerses you into their world, making you care what happens to them, well aware that back then life was so precarious and could turn on a moment.
There are things I could go into here but this is a book that needs to be experienced. Be prepared to weep. I cried buckets. I should have expected that and I still wasn’t ready. Damn you, Frayne!
The amount of emotional growth Nathanial shows during this story is amazing, especially in the last pages. I needed that epilogue. It was perfection. The flawless narrative touch.The author had me worried the chapter before and then delivered the 5 star send off.
After the story was done, I thought to myself….I didn’t get to savor all the nuances, the bits and pieces that I was sure that I had missed but I was still not ready to dive back in to the emotional journey that Nat needs to go through. But I will and soon. Because this is a book to be treasured. I’ll just remember to have my box of tissues handy.
Cover art by Natasha Snow. Not sure how I feel about this cover. On the surface its fine, has all the elements. But it doesn’t stand out, the tones,while right for the era are just blah.
Published November 26th 2018 by NineStar Press
Original Title The Bibliophile
Edition Language English