Posted in Reviews

DNF – On Swift Horses, Shannon Pufahl

A DNF (did not finish) book. Should you blog about it or not? That’s what came into my mind. And you know what? It’s still a book I read and I have thoughts about it. So DNF-books might be a nice category on my blog in which I motivate my reasons and collect my thoughts. Will you join me?

Title: On Swift Horses (306 pages)
Author: Shannon Pufahl (American author)
Genre: Adult, Historical fiction
Themes: American West, 50’s, gambling
First publication: Riverhead Books (November 2019)
DNF (did not finish, so no rating)
What I liked: The manner in which Julius’ relationships were described.
What I didn’t like: Slow, over-detailed pacing

What is this? On Swift Horses is an adult historical fiction written by American author Shannon Pufahl. This book was a finalist in the Lambda Literary Awards of 2020 and a New York Times Review Editor’s Choice. It’s described as a very cinematic novel.

Plot summary: The story follows Muriel and Julius, siblings in law. Muriel is recently married with Lee, Julius’ brother and is trying to find her way in life. Julius does the same. Each chapter is told from either of their perspectives. This is a very character driven book, without any important plot. The story focuses on Muriel and Julius’ life and what their goals are.

Why did I DNF this book? I contemplated whether I should write a review on this, since I DNFd this 60% in. But you know what? A review is a review and I still have thoughts about this book, whether I finished it or not. I decided to create a separate category on my blog for DNF-books. And trust me, I don’t want to make a habit of it. I felt guilty for my decision because I do recognize the effort that went into this book. And honestly, this is based on personality and taste. You might think it’s a great book and I’d love to talk about that! But here are my thoughts.

I felt disconnected from the start and already knew this wasn’t going to be a 4 or 5 star rating. But for 150 pages long I kept feeling something beautiful was happening. The way it was written had so many ups and downs for me. One one hand, I really enjoyed Julius’ chapters. At one point in the story he has an affair with someone (don’t worry, it’s not a spoiler) and the way this was described is very beautiful and an example of why I think this book received a lot of passion from the author.

“If he could turn his love into a noise it would be the noise of a bomb in the far desert, one that reaches the city in delay. The dawn sight of the cloud drawing up is the spectacle and the miracle but still at its distance could be a mere trick of the eye. Sometimes whole minutes later comes the convulsive thud, as if the sound was the sound of time passing and could not be rushed, and only then is the bomb real. No man could make that sound and no man could stop it. It is the sound of time itself coming forward and catching them where they stand.”

Seriously, this was so beautiful to read. I had to pause and read it more than once, just to let it sink in. But the book didn’t deliver a lot of these parts that pulled me in. I already said the writing had ups and downs for me. This quote was a high “up” for me. But the “downs” were overpowering me more and more. First, this book has minimal dialogue which makes it so it focuses on the characters’ feelings and motivations. Therefor, there’s no plot in this and it handles more character driven thoughts. Second, I can’t enjoy character driven stories if nothing happens. Let me explain. This book describes everything in real time, unless it somehow skips a few weeks ahead between perspectives or chapters. Therefor, this book takes time to go through. Everything is described in hyper-detail; the way the sun shines through a window, the way someone’s hair is styled, and so on. I find it very tiring to read about these things without any pauses in rhythm or style. This is why it’s a very cinematic book. It made me think whether this would be better executed as a movie or not.

So 150 pages in I decided to DNF this. This is my first DNF of 2020 and I felt guilty about it. I really try to finish books with the thought: “Something could still happen”. But I don’t think I would’ve felt content after finishing this. Over half of this book could not grip me enough to continue and I have too many other books waiting to be read to spend more time on that. I spent three days on 100 pages because it felt so exhausting to read through all the details. My expectations weren’t met, although they weren’t high to begin with.

Besides the writing style and rhythm, the character of Muriel also gave me a reason to stop reading. I thoroughly enjoyed Julius’ story because the most beautiful parts in the writing were his chapters. But Muriel didn’t captivate me as a character. And to be fair, I think all of the characters own minimal personality. The only thing I can say about both Muriel and Julius is that they gamble. There is nothing described about their style of humor, their priorities in life, and so on.

So all of the above made me decide to leave it as is. I own this book, so I might pick it up later again to see if I feel any differently but until now I’ll start on another book and let it be.

Overall feeling: I felt exhausted to read through over-detailed settings without anything that brings me interest. No personality and it felt very distant. I even started skipping chapters (Muriel’s, most of all) and found out I didn’t miss anything. I even read the last chapter and felt indifferent. This book also has a contemporary vibe, more than a historical fiction, which makes me think what the point of the given genre is.

Do I recommend this book? Obviously, this isn’t a good book for me. But if I come across people who enjoy literary fiction and don’t mind nothing happening, I could tell them this is one of those books. It might be something very enjoyable for people who can relate to distant thoughts like this. And while I’m typing this, this book makes me think of depression. It’s not explicitly said that anyone has it but the way everything is written and characters react to each other makes me think of it. Because although I can’t relate to anything in this book, I did once feel very distant myself, not showing any personality or interest. In that way I related to a few chapters but it wasn’t enough to enjoy it.

What will I do after this book? I’m going to read a YA fantasy after this to get something lighter themed. I need a break and I want to avoid pushing myself into a reading slump by reading heavy writing.

I hope you could still manage to enjoy a blog post like this. Do you DNF books? What’s your opinion about it? Let me know!


reading books and incoherently blogging about it

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