REVIEW: Nowhere Ranch by Heidi Cullinan
I adored this book. It’s utterly and completely over the top. It’s exuberant. It’s angry — no, it’s furious. It’s totally steeped in dirty nasty sex. It’s leaking angst all over the place. It’s political and powerful and brilliant. And I think most people will either love it or despise it with the fiery burning hate of 10,000 suns. I — obviously — adored it. But then I’m a Big-R Romantic as well as little-r romantic. Passion and angst and anger are what it’s all about.
Monroe Davis is 25 and a drifter. He ends up drifting to a 3000 acre ranch in Nebraska. He lives on property in a shitty little apartment, but he’s happy with his lot (except his kitchen sucks). One day he goes to Rapid City for a fuck and finds himself hitting on his boss, Travis. After they both get over their terror at seeing the other, they do indeed fuck, because they’re perfect for each other. They have hot dirty kinky sex and then Roe insists on going back to a strictly working relationship. Until four months later, when he gets a letter from his cousin trying to get him to see the light about his homosexuality, trying to bring him back to his family by telling him how wrong he is because of who he is. He’s pretty emotionally fucked up about it and Travis takes him to the rodeo to make him feel better. Of course, they end up fucking again, but Roe runs again at the hint of emotional connection and the possibility of a relationship. Lather, rinse, repeat with more intensity.
This book is about Roe’s inability to access his emotions. It’s told in Roe’s first person point of view, so the reader suffers right along with him as he tries to figure out how to label or understand any of what he’s feeling. And he does, eventually. He gets his head on right, with the help of Travis and Haley, the ranch manager’s daughter. But it takes a while. And his maturation and emotional discovery are like a slow blooming flower. So much potential and so beautiful in the unfolding, as well as in the final product. It’s a love story in that we watch Roe fall in love, recognizing it even when he is blind to it.
And despite it being a first person book, we can see Travis fall in love, too:
I felt fluttery and strange when he stroked my face. I shut my eyes, swimming in the feeling. It went on a long time, though, and when I opened my eyes again, he had the damnedest look on his face. You would have thought I had used the crop on him well past "no."
"If you need, now or ever, to go back home, I don't want to be in your way." His fingers fell on my lips. "But outside of that, I'd really rather you didn't leave." His thumb stroked my chin and he added, "Ever."
He looked like he was going to be sick now. I frowned at him, but that only made him worse. "You okay, Travis?" I asked.
"I don't know," he whispered. "Are you going to run?"
I tried to prop up on my elbow to get a better look at him, because he made no fucking sense at all, but he reached up and grabbed my arm so tight it hurt, and I figured it out. And yeah, for a second, I panicked. But I was getting used to these two parts of me, the fluttery top part that felt guilty and wanted to get away from Travis, and the part underneath that seemed to have a better handle on everything. And it was getting stronger, because it held me in place until I calmed down enough to speak.
"So you're telling me you're getting serious on me?" I said at last. "That this is more than fucking after all?"
He really, really looked scared, but now he was angry too. "Roe, you sleep in your own bed at best once a week. Your toothbrush is here. You get dressed in your apartment, and occasionally you shower or go over there to "get some space.' This has been more than fucking for months now." He held on to my arm like he was afraid that now as he'd pointed it out, the bubble would burst.
Well, he had a valid fear.
Roe is a complete emotional mess and Travis isn’t much better, but watching them limp toward a relationship is addictive.
And let’s talk about the sex. There’s sex. There’s a lot of it. And it’s dirty. I don’t mean dirty in a negative way — I mean it in the hot way. But it’s nasty and dirty and wonderful:
"I like rough," I said, my voice shaky at first, but it got stronger as I went on. "And I like it when I'm told what to do. If you want me ass-up on the bed, you say so. Trash talking is good. You want to tell me I'm your pony or your dog you're fucking, I can do that. I think hotel carpets are gross, so I'd rather not do puppy play on the floor. But in bed's okay. You can tie me up or gag me, but I don't care for both at once. I don't do shower blowjobs because it makes me feel like I'm drowning. I have done watersports, but I don't mind skipping that. But slapping is fine. So is biting so long as you don't draw blood. Pinching is good. Especially my nipples and my ass. Hickeys are okay, but I like to keep them where I can hide them."
I had started talking really fast by the end, and when all of it was out, I let out a breath and waited. After a few seconds, Loving's hand cupped my cock.
His fingers were already on my zipper. I shuddered and pushed my hips forward into his grip. "So long as I don't get arrested."
"Fair enough." He pinched my ass hard enough to make me jump. "Unbutton your fly and put your hands on the table."
There’s puppy play and pony play. There’s bondage and very large dildo(e)s. There’s fisting — hot and extremely well done. At one point Roe says of Travis, “He went around to the back of me and had a little party in my ass.” And the scene that follows is precisely as hot and dirty and nasty as that sounds, in the good way. But readers need to be prepared and appreciative of that kind of sex to enjoy this book, because there’s no enjoying it without the sex.
The rage in this book is partly Roe’s and, to a much smaller extent, Travis’, but mostly, it’s…yours, Ms. Cullinan. You do not make any secret of your political affiliations, but one character has this rant:
She hugged me tight, then sat up wearily. "I don't know that I want to. I mean, there are a lot of nice people who want to adopt, and babies are hard to find. Just look at your brother. Well — I mean, no offense, but I'm not giving my baby to somebody who thinks your orientation needs to be healed. I might not give it to anybody. I don't know. What I do know is that I want to think about it." Her eyes teared up again. "I just — no matter what I do, everything is ruined. Even if I do get an abortion, it's not like I can just go on and forget about it. Which is what pisses me off. What do they think, that I'm some dipshit bitch who can go get an abortion like it's a manicure? And even if there is somebody that nasty, why do I have to suffer because of them? I bet you my student loan check the same "good Christians' who would call me a baby killer would rather turn and shout at you for being gay before they'd take ten minutes to help me through this. That's the way they are. They don't give a shit about anybody but themselves. If I keep my baby and ask for their help, the next thing they'll do is find something wrong with me. And everybody I love. Fuck them and their "pro-life.'" She had stopped crying in the middle of her rant, and now she glared across the room at the wall. "If I keep this baby, I'm going to make damn sure it grows up to kick their bigoted, hateful asses."
You are furious and that righteous fury drives this book, drives the narrative, drives the ending of the story maybe further than it needs to go, for the characters. Roe goes back home with Travis and Haley (no, this book is NOT a menage) and the family get their comeuppance. Roe and Travis get their happy ending — and then some — but it’s written as a big Fuck You! to all the hateful, destructive homophobia out there. Don’t get me wrong: I appreciate that. So much. It’s like a dirty X-rated love letter that I will read again and again. But it’s something readers need to be aware of.
So, dirty nasty sex, strong political slant, and brilliantly written emotional journeys. As I said, I adored this book. I will be quoting this book if/when I get into political discussions about whether people with alternate sexualities are going to hell or not (“You can’t pick and choose!”). But it’s not an easy book. It’s easy to fall into and and devour it. But it’s not an easy read.