Reading Resolution: “Upright Women Wanted” by Sarah Gailey

29. Wild Card: Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

List Progress: 21/30

Some books are just okay. A couple weeks after finishing Upright Women Wanted, the quirky Western novella by Sarah Gailey, I keep finding myself forgetting to write this review, as I have almost nothing to say about it. It feels like a book that has tried so hard to be appealing to a certain type of reader that it has sanded all of its edges off. I respect the work that goes into making and finishing any book, but there was just nothing that deeply lit my fire here.

In an alternate history Wild West, where lightly-sketched crises in the past sent America on a descent into fascism and tight government control, the Librarians are traveling women who go from settlement to settlement, sharing government-approved entertainment materials and propaganda. At least, that’s what they are on the surface, although the facade of respectability is so thin that it’s amazing the government hasn’t realized they are all rebels. When young Esther runs away from her town, fleeing an arranged marriage and the execution of her secret female lover, she sees the Librarians as the last option to live a societally-approved life, only to discover that seemingly every Librarian (or maybe just the ones she found?) are in fact queer radicals. They move unapproved materials and people across the desert landscape and are able to live their authentic lives out of the gaze of society.

There should be a sense of freedom and release when Esther joins the Librarians, but it somehow falls flat. The Librarians themselves are fairly stock stoics, and Esther’s potential love-interest is far too prickly to make Esther’s attraction make much sense, especially so close on the tail of her lover’s death. The novella starts after she runs away, so the reader does not get to experience any of her restricted life. And the Librarians never really try to hide their real nature from Esther, so there’s no sense of reveal and discovery.

There is a something to be said for Gailey centering women and queer people in the historically-macho Western genre, and there is little actively objectionable in Upright Women Wanted. But for a book that is supposed to ignite the passion of a wide horizon and an endless expanse, it ends up feeling pretty pedestrian.

Would I Recommend It: Not really, but not strongly opposed.

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