On Swift Horses

Riverhead. Nov. 2019. 320p. ISBN 9780525538110. $27; ebk. ISBN 9780525538134.
DEBUT After their navy discharge in the early 1950s, Lee and brother Julius, along with Lee’s wife, Muriel, hope for a better life in postwar San Diego. Lee wants the three of them to get in on the housing boom and enjoy a settled suburban life and urges Muriel to sell property she inherited back in Kansas to provide money for their dream. Because Muriel is reluctant to give up her mother’s house, she devises a secret plan to fool Lee. Julius wants no part of suburbia and, sensing Muriel’s growing feelings for him, falls into the risky life of Las Vegas casinos, winning money off hapless tourists and hustling in a town wrapped in radioactive fallout from bomb tests in the nearby desert. While working pit surveillance in the Golden Nugget, Julius and a fellow casino worker become lovers, but Henry vanishes after being thrown out of a casino for cheating. Julius follows his lead to Tijuana’s dangerous underworld and eventually wreaks havoc on the lives of Lee and Muriel.
VERDICT Debut novelist Pufahl’s sharp, gritty details of 1950s San Diego and Las Vegas effectively draw the reader into her protagonists’ struggles to bring meaning to their lives, however different their experiences. [See Prepub Alert, 11/5/19.]
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