The tight-knit Nevada community of Red River Pass in 1895 may seem like a world apart from Great Britain but when the scandalous news of Oscar Wilde’s conviction on charges of gross indecency ripples across the telegraph wires, the effects are cataclysmic. The town’s self-righteous, God-fearing denizens – especially the womenfolk – just can’t seem to stop talking about the playwright’s perversity, especially insofar as the unsavory memory it conjures about two young males from their own ranks who were once caught in a compromising scenario.
All of this insidious chatter strikes a particularly ominous tone with Mildred Dunlap, a woman whose generosity to anyone in need has never quite been able to cancel out the petty jealousies and nasty remarks about her mannish, ugly looks, her reclusiveness, and her avoidance of the church. While Mildred has grown accustomed to being a social outcast – despite the town’s reliance on her bank account – she would do anything in the world to protect her most treasured relationship with the fragile Edra. It’s only a matter of time, Mildred realizes, before the town gossips start scrutinizing their insular lifestyle or – worse – cross the threshold of their home and make the salacious discovery that there is only one bed. Desperate to preserve their secret at all costs, Mildred hatches a plan to throw their potential attackers off the scent, a plan that involves a newly widowed neighbor named Charley.
Homophobia, however, is not the only syndrome running rampant throughout Red River Pass. Jews and blacks are equally suspect of evil among the close-minded residents and, if they had their druthers, would be completely eradicated from the face of the earth. The author does an exceptional job in not only capturing the landscape in detailed brushstrokes but also delivering a plausible cast of characters whose collective objective is to sling mud and muck on others in order to feel better about themselves. This book would be an excellent text for classroom discussions about diversity and tolerance, and the character of Gus emerges as a gentle spokesperson for the overarching themes of love and honor.