I have a strong draw towards rural queer stories. I’m not sure why, because I grew up in a mid-sized liberal/hippie city, but I find myself seeking out and basking in stories by Ivan Coyote, Rae Spoon, emily m. danforth and now Melanie Hoffert. I think it’s because the traditional narrative of queer lives is to leave behind small towns, that they are small-minded and irreparable. I like narratives that challenge that. Prairie Silence is about Hoffert’s journey back to the prairies where she grew up. She left as soon as she could, feeling stifled as a queer person, but keeps feeling that draw to go back. Throughout the book, Hoffert tried to reconcile her complex feeling about this geography.
I found that Prairie Silence took a little while to find its feet. Sometimes the metaphors seem to get away from her, and there isn’t really a structure for the first part of the book. Soon, though, Hoffert begins to cycle between telling her childhood stories of growing up queer and her present-day attempts to figure out her home state. Faith ends up playing a big role in the book, because she was deeply religious as a young person. I liked the stories about her past the best, especially with the contrast of her present. Part of the present-day action in Prairie Silence consists of trying to figure out small town America. Hoffert sort of takes tours of towns around her hometown. It oddly reminded me of the (non-queer) book America Unchained, and the mix of romanticization and pessimism rubs me the wrong way, for some reason. I guess because it’s people’s everyday lives as tourist attractions (which isn’t uncommon).
Overall, I really liked Prairie Silence. (The title addresses the don’t-ask-don’t-tell attitude around uncomfortable topics that Hoffert feels consumes the prairies.) I found myself going back and re-reading passages, just to let them sink in. I also thought that the narrative wrapped up well, when Hoffert comes to terms with the prairies not necessarily meeting her expectations. I definitely think this one is worth picking up.
Oh, and if you want a romance novel that addresses similar themes (but in a completely different writing style/genre, obviously), I really liked The Long Way Home by Rachel Spangler (link leads to my review).