Image has background of purple, yellow, and orange swirls like a prairie sunset and some flat hills. A woman in a red dress with long red hair and a cowboy hat walks in the foreground. Text says "Lucky Red A Novel Claudia Cravens"

Wild West Women

LUCKY RED rating: 5 stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐.

If you ask about my favorite genre, Western will likely be the last thing on the list, but some westerns I revere. LONESOME DOVE (1985). THE SISTERS BROTHERS (2011).

But, feminist westerns. Hello. As with the circus, the frontier is a place where fictional women can explore identities and possibilities. I love OUTLAWED (Bloomsbury/W.W. Norton, January 5, 2021), except for the ending, which I find abrupt. Nobody aims a rifle like Michelle Dockery in “Godless.” Be they feminist, be they lesbian or queer, these are still by-God westerns, shootin’ and rootin’-tootin’. If Miss Kitty were the main character in “Gunsmoke” and into women, it would still be a western. And speaking of Dodge City….

80% of the way through my #ARC of LUCKY RED (Dial Press/Penguin Random House, June 20, 2023), I thought, if debut (?!?) author Claudia Cravens sticks this ending I’ll have no option but to rate this book five stars. The character development could be deeper but the novel is well nigh flawless. The pace and the turn of phrase are stunners. These similes, these metaphors, this just-exactly-enough description. And guess what. Cravens sticks the ending, shoves a claim flag into it and rides off into the sunset in a ten-gallon hat.

Disclaimer: Thanks to Edelweiss/Above the Tree Line and Penguin Random House for sending me this book to me for review consideration. All opinions are my own.

The main character, Bridget, having lost everything but a skinny mule and the ragged dress on her back, wanders into the middle of nowhere in 1877, casting herself upon a merciless wilderness. Bridget is a first-person narrator and a good one. I read another #ARC recently with the same plot, THE VASTER WILDS by Lauren Groff (Riverhead/Penguin Random House, September 12, 2023). Again, love it, except for the ending.

Bridget puts the work into sex work when she lands in a brothel in Dodge City with two madams where law enforcement gets freebies and looks the other way. Bridget makes friends with Caroline, who is educated and high-born. Bridget likes the brothel because for the first time in her life, she has money and enjoys creature comforts. As in A DANGEROUS BUSINESS by Jane Smiley (Knopf/Penguin Random House), December 6, 2022), the job is quite workwomanlike, platonic and perfunctory, except when it’s dangerous. However, most dangerous for Bridget is the women she becomes enamored with: first, Sallie the actress, then Spartan Lee, the infamous outlaw and bounty hunter. But no one really knows Bridget, whom Spartan nicknames “Red.” That steely, starving orphan is still underneath the lace and satin and capable of anything.

Bridget never imagines that a terrible betrayal and brutal crimes might drive her and other members of her found family to dress like men and become desperadoes on the Kansas plains.

What I’m reading right now:

A funny historical Regency romance, A LADY’S GUIDE TO SCANDAL by Sophie Irwin (July 11, 2023, Penguin Random House)

What I’m listening to right now:

Nonfiction about persistent medieval views of women, THE ONCE AND FUTURE SEX by Eleanor Janega (January 23, 2023, W. W. Norton)

#feminism #western #LuckyRed #ClaudiaCravens #LonesomeDove #TheSistersBrothers #Outlawed #GodlessOnNetflix #Gunsmoke #TheVasterWilds #LaurenGroff #ADangerousBusiness #JaneSmiley #ALadysGuideToScandal #SophieIrwin #TheOnceAndFutureSex #EleanorJanega #queer #LGBTQ