Two-Gun & Sun is part historical fiction, part love story, and 100 per cent feisty wild west.
The kicker: this 1920s western isn’t set in the dusty deserts of the United States, but in the deep wilds of British Columbia. Welcome to Black Mountain: a filthy, racist mining town bent on extracting the province’s rich ore of coal at any price.
Most of the locals couldn’t care less about the state of the world, but Lila Sinclair — a boldly single woman determined to take over her uncle’s small-town newspaper business, and our intrepid heroine — has some ideas about how, exactly, the town should change for the better. Why don’t the miners belong to a union? Why are the foreign workers forced to live in a slum nicknamed “Lousetown”? Why is it impossible to find fresh vegetables or fruit in the town? Why are the roads filled with potholes, and the backwoods filled with vicious wild pigs? Fixing – or even acknowledging – some of these problems would inarguably lead to a better standard of living in the town, and push Black Mountain out of its backwater roots and into a shining future.
For better or for worse, Lila is intent on making this vision into a reality. After all, she’s given up everything to move to Black Mountain and get the press running again. She cares about the Black Mountain and its inhabitants, and stubbornly — perhaps uselessly — stands up for the idea that people should treat each other decently.
By its end, the novel is a tangled — but careful — examination of expectation and desire. As Lila fights to make her newspaper profitable and to gain the respect of her fellow townsfolk, she finds herself becoming both more confident and more lost. She fights for the respect and freedom her father never allowed her; she fights for fair working conditions for sheriff, miners, and whores alike; she fights to bring elegance and progress to Black Mountain. But which of these goals will actually make her happy? And why can’t she stop thinking about the Chinatown revolutionary she’s hired to run her printing press, whose ideals are as fierce and subtle as her own?
Following the many threads of this novel is occasionally confusing, especially in such a short work: Lila chases up dozens of news stories in her first month, hopping from one to the next. This scattered and constant split in attention is true to real-life journalism; to a reader, however, the result is that none of the stories seem to fully materialise into full plot points. Should we care more about the working conditions of the miners, or the mystery of the black horse smuggled off a freighter at midnight, or the subtly ominous attitude of the deputy, or the gossip and casual racism surrounding the public speech of a visiting dignitary?
Then again, perhaps this is the point — after all, Lila finds the work as emotionally and physically draining as she does interesting, and this exhaustion is likewise felt by the reader. By the end of the novel, it is inevitable and unsurprising that Lila has difficult choices to make — about the future of her newspaper and her heart alike. Can she truly make a difference in Black Mountain, torn between the town’s twin and warring attitudes of scorn and apathy?
As the stakes reach a fever pitch and the threads of the novel continue to expand and multiply, Lila is forced to deal with her underlying uncertainty and passion in a single, fateful blow – a conclusion which leaves no doubt in the reader’s mind about the courage and difficulty of admitting what you want out of life, even to yourself. (A conclusion which, frankly, is the loveliest and most satisfying part of a lovely and satisfying novel.)