When Billy Strobaw heads west after the death of his parents, he finds a family where he least expects it. He becomes lovers with a young Yanube warrior named Cut Hand and they build a life amongst an accepting and beautiful people. But as whites move further and further into the territory once claimed by the Yanube, Billy must straddle the line between two worlds. To protect the ones they love, Billy and Cut Hand must make brutal sacrifices and seek peace when others clamor for war and in doing so, they may lose all the hold dear.
Cut Hand is something of a mixed bag for me. On the one hand, it’s a beautiful love story between two men who defy society’s expectations of them. And it’s a tragic tale of love lost and of the destruction of a people by a white nation who claimed to be superior. But Cut Hand is also filled with purple prose, awkward writing, a seemingly omnipotent narrator, and a first meeting based on rape.
Let’s start with the good. Cut Hand and Billy are both endearing and memorable characters. They’re strong men and while accepting of their relationship, the Yanube expect Billy to act in a certain way. He never conforms to this and we applaud him for being his own man. And we equally applaud the Yanube people for loving him in spite of his failure to conform to a mold. Cut Hand is young and headstrong, but he loves his people more than anything and his devotion is inspiring. Both are well rounded and fully formed characters, as are further members of the tribe. They are portrayed as a living, breathing people and it’s easy to relate to them as a result.
There are no happy endings here, at least not the traditional ones, and there are some exceptionally painful moments in Cut Hand, but this is well balanced with moments of happiness. There are also multiple relationships and in reality Billy and Cut Hand are a couple for only about half the book. But there is realism in this and the author does a good job portraying how people and their relationships change over time.
Now for my issues with the writing, which are extensive. It isn’t bad per sae and grammatically its well done. The author does a good job of setting readers in a time and place. I suspect the author was trying to write “of the time,” which is admirable, but descriptions come off as overblown and uneven. The purple prose is cloying and at times it utterly removed me from the action. Billy often comes off as all knowing and all seeing. He’s able to predict how the whites will react, the loss of the buffalo, and so on. I’m sure some of this was evident at the time, but it feels a little too precious for the story.
My biggest issue with the book is the initial meetings between Billy and Cut Hand, the latter of whom is a prisoner. Billy finds himself attracted to the young warrior and takes advantage of the situation. Cut Hand has no way to voice consent and its rape in all but name. This left a pretty foul taste and given that it occurred at the start of the book, it took a long time to find my footing after this.
Cut Hand was enjoyable overall and its characters are definitely the strongest part of what the book has to offer. There are some poor writing choices and scenes of dubious consent early on, but if you can move past this there is plenty to appreciate here. It’s also the first in a series, so it will be interesting to see if the rest of the books are reissued as well.
A review copy of this book was provided by DSP Publications.