I must admit that when I first saw this book advertised, I wanted to read it to see how this western compared to BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN. But even though both stories involved homophobia affecting the lives of two gay men, the writing styles are completely different and each author told their tale in unique and refreshing ways. Whereas Annie Proulx told her story in the short story format and the language was complex and full of literary imagery with so much implied rather than written down, Probst's style was simple language written in the novel format much in the same way
that Ernest Hemingway wrote. To compare Proulx to Probst would be like comparing Thomas Wolfe to Ernest Hemingway trying to decide which author is the best. It can't and shouldn't be done because they both should be read with their own unique writing styles in mind.
Mark Probst wins the reader over by creating two very likable main characters who both just happen to be male and who fall in love immediately as if they have been struck by lightning the second they first meet. I think the drawing card for each of them is that they are so different from each other. Ethan is younger (17) and is a sheltered bookworm who up to the point of their meeting has lived vicariously through the books he reads. Travis is older (22) and has already been away from home for several years and has been on several cattle drives already. We discover as the story unfolds that Travis has already had some sexual experiences with both females and males but what is missing in his life, is that one person that he can really love. He finds that in Ethan and he has to find a way to incorporate Ethan into his life on a daily basis so he convinces him to join the cattle drive to Wyoming.
The fact that Ethan and Travis are in love and not in lust with each other makes it quite acceptable that Probst doesn't include scenes of erotic love making between the two men. We're still able to read between the lines; often we can imagine far better scenarios than what might have been written down to titillate us. Just as the horror in Alfred Hitchcock's movies were achieved by letting us imagine what happened rather than showing us, Probst is more successful many times by leaving things out of his writing than if he had chosen to put them in.
The lesser characters in the book are as vividly drawn as the two main characters and not one character is superfluous to the plot. Probst brilliantly finds a way to include the stumbling block to the success of Ethan's and Travis' love and he is faithful and true to the time and place about which he is writing. He doesn't give us an easy and unrealistic conclusion yet he does give us a satisfactory one and the book is one from which all age groups and sexual orientations can read, enjoy, and learn.