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On Swift Horses

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  62 ratings  ·  27 reviews
A lonely newlywed and her wayward brother-in-law follow divergent and dangerous paths through the postwar American West.

Muriel is newly married and restless, transplanted from her rural Kansas hometown to life in a dusty bungalow in San Diego. The air is rich with the tang of salt and citrus, but the limits of her new life seem to be closing in: She misses her freethink
Hardcover, 320 pages
Published November 5th 2019 by Riverhead Books
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Average rating 3.82  · 
Rating details
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Jul 20, 2019 rated it really liked it

“What a thing is progress.”

set in 1956 in the american west, this is a beautifully written book about two characters at odds with the postwar values of a country in the process of redefining itself, promising new opportunities that neither of them want.

muriel is 21 years old, a newlywed and recent arrival to san diego. her progressive, independent mother has recently died, leaving muriel their house in kansas. some months later, upon their discharge from the navy, her frequently rebuffed suitor lee and his bAVAILABLE!!!
Christopher Alonso
Jun 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: lgbtq, favorites
I can't remember the last time I read a debut novel where the writing was as self-assured as ON SWIFT HORSES. The book follows Muriel and her brother-in-law Julius through alternating points of view, both informing each other in different ways. Muriel becomes increasingly interested in gambling on horse racing, and Julius, a card cheat, tries his best to better his own life until he meets another gambler, Henry.
ON SWIFT HORSES is about so many things: love and secrets, gambling and desires, and
Roman Clodia
An interesting evocation of 1950s America and two characters wanting more from life than they're 'supposed' to want - but the writing style which is all 'tell', very little 'show' and hardly any dialogue prevented me from getting as involved as I should have. Being 'told' with little being dramatised leaves the story flat and I felt held at a distance. I wanted more direct contact with the characters but the writing technique just didn't allow it. Lots of thoughtful stuff here about gambling and ...more
On Swift Horses is a historical fiction novel, taking place in in the Western United States in the 1950s. The three central characters—Muriel, Lee, and Julius are all in the midst of change. Muriel married Lee and moved from Kansas to San Diego with him and is learning about the horse races and how to continue to grow and mature after her mother's death. Lee wants to move to the suburbs and start a family, but Muriel has different plans. Lee's brother, Julius, is a staple in both Muriel and Lee's li ...more
Anna Luce
DNF 30%

On Swift Horses has an almost soporific effect on me.
Through repeated attempts I managed to read a few paragraphs, at times a few pages even. Soon however my eyes would glaze over as my mind wandered away from the page's content.
Having read and enjoyed many so called 'slow-burners' (or bricks such as Middlemarch) I'm not one to turn away from stories that have a mo
Jillian Doherty
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Normally I devour good books - this one though I needed to savor. Even if i wanted to absorb it more quickly I'd have lost the power of so many harrowing, lustful, devastating, life-changing moments you simple need to luxuriate in.

Plus I love a story with broken, yet unapologetic characters.
The venn diagram of characters: Muriel, her mother's story, Lee, Sandra are one world - Julius and Henry are another, but as Muriel and Julius' paths cross it's like lightning flashing.

I wouldn't want to s
Oct 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction-for-fun
I'm so glad to have been sent an advance copy of this book! It's a little outside what I usually read, but it was great foray into a slightly different genre. The thing that I probably loved most about this was that I could smell the settings and feel the seasons. The descriptions of the environment are so evocative and I really felt like I was there. The queerness felt both loving and honest as well. I'm gonna hide one content warning for spoilers but would definitely recommend.
Read if yo
Nov 03, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: arc-s
"I guess we all take what paradise is offered us."

Reading this book felt like a luxurious treat - the writing pulls you in and evelops you like a warm hug. It is beautiful, it doesn't over explain how the characters feel and instead lets you feel their hopes, loves and losses with them. It is a poignant and powerful book about the fight to live as you are in this world.

Set in 1957 America, this novel follows the lives of Julius and Muriel, related by marriage, as they take risks, learn to
Oct 11, 2019 rated it it was ok
In the past, I’ve described books as slow burns. What I usually mean is that, as I read them, I can get a sense of a lit fuse at the center of the book. There are little sparks, gathering speed, usually towards some kind of dramatic explosion. The tension draws me along because I want to see what happens when the tinder lights. Shannon Pufahl’s On Swift Horses never really lights my fire. This is a slow book. It’s also a very subtle one. In this novel, two LGBT characters carefully navigate their desi ...more
Afton Montgomery
Jul 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
On the surface, this is a novel centered on gambling: horses, cards, horses again. Below the surface, though, it's about the ways that we gamble with ourselves-- and what's addictive in that. With sublime dexterity and perfect subtlety, Pufahl explores the pieces of her two characters-- a newlywed and her brother-in-law-- that they hide, the pieces that they trade and bury, the pieces that become their masks. On Swift Horses is the queer underbelly story of the American West that I didn't know I ...more
Brenda Scanzillo
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Hands down one of the best books of 2019. This book captures human emotion in such a stunningly raw way, painting beautiful, haunting scenes that will stay with you long after the book is finished. Julius’ desperate search for his lost love Henry is interspersed with images of a post-war country in a time of great change, where hotels advertise nuclear bomb tests in the desert to tourists and the interstate system is just rising up to transform the way we operate. Juxtaposed with Julius is the s ...more
“Can’t have everything, hey. Not people like us.”

I’m sorry to say I didn’t enjoy this as much as I had hoped. The synopsis promised things I love in my books – a 1950’s setting, an exotic location with Tijuana and the glamour of Las Vegas, but I just couldn’t get into the story. I think the main problem was that I had just read two books that had completely blown me away so any read that followed was bound to come up short!

Muriel and Julius are two characters seeking more from life.
May 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A style-filled debut novel for anyone that loves Americana fiction and brilliant storytelling. It takes place in the 1950s and is a great period piece with characters that are just as evocative as its setting. While quite a short book there is constant friction and the pace often breaks from a trot into a gallop before the author draws on the reins again.

It’s about two people, Muriel and Julius, as they try to navigate love and discover themselves. To continue the horse metaphor, Muriel is a ti
Aug 06, 2019 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Deedi (DeediReads) Brown
Oct 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing
All my reviews live at

Rating: 4.5 / 5

On Swift Horses is a beautiful slow burn with language that draws you in like music. Like others who have read it before me, I simply couldn’t read it quickly; I had to linger over every sentence, speak them in my mind as I read, and let them sink into my bones and heart.

The book alternates between the perspectives of two main characters: Muriel and her brother-in-law, Julius. During their time in the armed service, Julius and his brot/>On
Nov 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Easily one of my favorite books of the last few years. I'm so excited it's finally out so I can talk about it with all my friends! First, the writing: so self-assured and gorgeous and evocative. I mean, the scene where Muriel tries an olive for the first time? I was there, putting an olive in my mouth and tasting it like I never had before. The characters: incredibly complex, and the way they're characterized is very subtle and effective. They're not always aware of what's going on in their own ...more
Susie Dumond
Oct 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Set in post-WWII San Diego and Las Vegas, this queer Western is an exploration of desire, risk, and uncertainty. The writing is beautiful and the characters are wonderfully complex. I struggled with the plot a bit, but that wasn't really the point. Instead, it dug into two characters - Muriel, newly married and lonely in her new hometown of San Diego, and her brother-in-law Julius, working in casinos and lovesick for a handsome, young, cheating gambler. Each chapter peels back a thin layer of th ...more
In the aftermath of their military service, two brothers decide to follow their dreams and unite in California, the land of opportunity, with a dream of settling from Kansas. Lee, Muriel's husband pursues the dream of California. Julius, his gay brother, works at changing his life and finding his love in 50s United States. Muriel, Lee's wife, wants more and hides her actions and desires from Lee. Although often written beautifully, I found the work fragmented. Some of the plot lines were not dev ...more
Marisa Turpin
Nov 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
I finished this book last night. It took a little longer for me to read than usual even though it was only 306 pages long. I found myself stopping to look up words, such as "aporetic," "penumbral," "consanguinity." I always felt like I had an impressive vocabulary, but Ms. Pufahl definitely has me beat! I often complain when fish tastes "too fishy," and at times I did find this book too "wordy." The author could definitely go on and on about things in detail. (Sometimes I was enamored and quite ...more
Angela Lashbrook
Nov 01, 2019 marked it as did-not-finish
I didn't finish this book, but I didn't think it was bad at all; what I read of it (about 100 pages) was very beautiful. I'm just not in the right headspace for something so meditative and unhurried as this. If you're looking for a lovely, leisurely novel about love and gambling in mid-century San Diego, this is the book for you! I'll likely come back to it at a later date.
Nov 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: queer
The downfall of an incredible debut novel- there are no other books by the author to seek out. What does one do? As I finished this novel, I thought about starting over. Perhaps, skimming. Perhaps, picking random pages. The writing, the characters, the story- incredible! I went into this one with very little expectations. A wonderful experience.
Even if it's a fascinating description of American in the 50s I couldn't connect to the characters and the book fell flat.
Not my cup of tea.
Many thanks to the publisher and Netgalley for this ARC, all opinions are mine.
Nov 09, 2019 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I enjoyed the first character, Muriel, and I think if the book had stuck with her I would be a happy reader. However we then got introduced to other characters and my interest waned. Not much happened, very slowly - not the book for me.
Ruth Lounsbury
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is a beautifully written book set around 1957. It is a slow burn that you are glad for. The characters are wanting yet hopeful. Americana writing at it's finest. I like to thank Riverhead Books for this ARC.
Jane Pettitt
Nov 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A emotional read of family interactions love and deceit. Muriel wins money on the horses she goes by oneself, manipulating her money in different envelopes pays on her mother’s house and buys land , intertwining the facets of each character, who would you trust
If I didn't already have a "Cover Love" shelf this cover would be a reason to create one. & this plot makes me already want to see a movie of this book. I need!
Carla (happiestwhenreading)
DNF @ 22%.

Going to try again when I can have an actual book in my hands.
Keith Vient
rated it really liked it
Jun 22, 2019
rated it it was amazing
Nov 11, 2019
Samantha Storey
rated it really liked it
Aug 24, 2019
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