Title ~ The Lone Rancher
Author ~ Andrew Grey
Publisher ~ Dreamspinner Press
Published ~ 15th February 2016
Genre ~ Contemporary M/M Romance
He'll do anything to save the ranch, including baring it all.
Aubrey Klein is in real trouble—he needs some fast money to save the family ranch. His solution? A weekend job as a stripper at a club in Dallas. For two shows each Saturday, he is the star as The Lone Rancher.
It leads to at least one unexpected revelation: after a show, Garrett Lamston, an old friend from school, approaches the still-masked Aubrey to see about some extra fun… and Aubrey had no idea Garrett was gay. As the two men dodge their mothers’ attempts to set them up with girls, their friendship deepens, and one thing leads to another.
Aubrey know his life stretching between the ranch and the club is a house of cards. He just hopes he can keep it standing long enough to save the ranch and launch the life—and the love—he really hopes he can have
Andrew Grey has long been one of the more creative and powerful writers in the gay fiction genre. He has created a number of truly unique and brilliant novels (and series) that broke new ground, including one about young, gay Amish men, and another about a Native American reservation. These books were not only groundbreaking, they were profoundly moving and rarely left me without tears, even as I read the “happily-ever-afters” Mr. Grey so obligingly provides.
But not all his more recent books have been as unique, inventive, passionate and well-written as much of the remarkable work he’s published in the past. Regrettably, “The Lone Rancher” is one of those. The only thing that differentiates this novel from every other gay-guys-on-a-ranch novel and best-friends-who-grew-up-together-and-didn’t-realize-they’re-both-gay novel, is that one of the cowboys actually works, one day a week, as a stripper in a gay club in Dallas under the moniker: ‘The Lone Rancher’.
Unfortunately, that’s not enough difference to make a difference. The primary angst in this novel is whether Aubrey’s family, and the boy he’s loved for years, Garrett, will discover his shameful secret. Supposedly, he has given up his pride, self-respect and human dignity by working as a wildly-popular stripper to pay the bills that his profligate parents racked up, while he was living in Baltimore – debts that now leave the ranch close to foreclosure.
I can’t make a bit of sense out of this. He’s not working as an escort, just a sexy dancer, and performs wearing a mask. He’s not selling his body in the back room, he’s just dancing (and not entirely nude) for generous tips. He’s not exactly ‘The Whore of Babylon’. College kids, both male and female, dance in clubs, all the time, to pay their tuition or pay off college loans. Well-known actors, writers and producers kept themselves alive, dancing, while working their way into the entertainment industry. This is an entirely honorable profession, a clean, safe way of making money fast. I mean, this is the age of Magic Mike, where Channing Tatum made millions turning his experiences as a young stripper into one of the big hits of the silver screen, accompanied by some of the hottest men in the industry, all of them near-naked.
No angst there, no humiliation, no eternal damnation, just a good time had by all. Yet the “shame” of performing in a gay club is the primary theme of “Lone Rancher” and the two young friends’ greatest obstacle to finding love. Unless you, as the reader, accept the premise that dancing in a club, professionally, is both morally bankrupt and paves the road to Hell, “The Lone Rancher” is difficult to buy into - and I didn’t.
Furthermore, I found myself shaking my head when Garrett went ballistic upon discovering that Aubrey was a stripper. The hypocrisy is almost stunning when you realize that Garrett had been a patron of the same club, and hit on Aubrey, one night after a performance, not realizing who he was. We’re supposed to believe that he meets the scantily-clad Aubrey out behind the club, carries on a conversation with him and yet doesn’t have a clue that he’s talking to someone he’s known and loved since childhood?
Mr. Grey also, inadvertently (I suspect), paints Garrett as a judgmental ass. What, Aubrey was good enough for a one-night-fantasy, but when he realizes he’s someone he cares about, he’s suddenly a slut of some sort, or the author of some unforgivable betrayal? I don’t know about you, but discovering that one of the most beautiful, sexiest strippers I’ve ever seen was actually a long-time-friend who desperately wants me, wouldn’t exactly be a betrayal – in fact, it would make me feel like the luckiest guy in the world! The others get to look at him and dream about him; I get to have him in my bed.
There were other things that didn’t add up. Aubrey only works one night a week for $1000.00. So how is he paying off the $10,000 balance on a new tractor in just three weeks? I must have missed something.
Ultimately, the flawed premise and the derivative themes left me cold. I got little, if any, emotional jolt from the entire book. I felt no empathy for either man. Their relationship was too contrived, and the climax, in which both his aging mother and his lover walk into the Dallas gay bar in which Aubrey’s working, left me laughing. I think I was supposed to be dismayed and shocked. I wasn’t.
Yes I sound like a curmudgeon, I know. But Mr. Grey has been at the top of my “favorite authors” list for years, and I hate to see him dashing off books lacking his signature creativity, insight, depth, passion and emotional intensity that led me to fall in love with his writing. “The Lone Rancher” really reads like it was written by someone other than Andrew Grey, or perhaps I’ve missed something and this was supposed to be parody?
All I know is that “The Lone Rancher” didn’t work for me. Of course, that’s just me. Your mileage may vary.