A long-simmering feud between brothers boils over with the death of one brother at the other’s hand, prompting the wife of the deceased to hunt his killer and seek revenge. If it sounds like the plot of an Old West showdown, you wouldn’t be far off—except this adventure takes place in modern-day California.
So begins a contemporary Western tale of sibling rivalry, vengeance and family loyalty by debut novelist Ian Stansel in The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo. A finalist for the PEN/Bingham Prize for his short fiction collection, Everybody’s Irish, Stansel updates the age-old family feud in a surprisingly poignant way.
While the brothers—Silas and Frank Van Loy—and their decades-long jealousies provide the impetus of the story, Frank’s wife, Lena, proves to be one of the book’s most fascinating characters. Lena endures years of bickering between the two over the operation of their respective horse training operations, but through it all remains steadfastly loyal to her husband. As she pursues Silas in a cross-country horse race through largely untouched Northern California wilderness, Lena ponders why the two behave the way they do and ultimately comes to understand the answer is as simple as blood: “Because we’re brothers.”
Stansel’s powerful narrative alternates between Lena and Silas, allowing readers to glimpse and sympathize with each perspective. In a blood feud, there is no right or wrong, no black and white, good and bad. Each side stubbornly clings to their own beliefs, faults and assumptions. As such, the novel deviates from the straightforward revenge storyline to explore the deeper relationships between brothers and the women in their lives.
The Last Cowboys of San Geronimo is a fast-paced, moving narrative in which family loyalty is tested, broken and redeemed in unexpected ways.