By Percival Everett. Graywolf, $23.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>0/5

John Hunt, the protagonist of Wounded, the latest by prolific novelist Percival Everett, is a black man living in a Wyoming desert community of white ranchers. While that setup would be enough to send some authors reaching for the race card, Everett initially downplays his main character's blackness. Like a lot of the novelist's narrators, John is more interested in how he defines himself than in how others label him. But a gruesome murder soon yanks the veil over this quiet town—and forces John to grapple with his role in the community. The victim is a young gay man, and the town's response seems muffled by the fact that he was considered an outsider.

Wounded follows the classic Western trope of how crime affects a group of people who normally keep to themselves. When one of his ranch hands is fingered as the prime suspect, John finds himself reluctant to stick his neck out for his employee in a town that has always maintained order by following the status quo. When a former resident surprises the community by returning as part of a gay-rights rally, intolerance rears up, and John realizes that keeping quiet is a matter of survival.

By the time a character goes missing and search parties are sent out, Wounded has aptly cranked up the page-turning melodrama, but Everett leavens his gripping plot with measured prose and a detailed narrative focus. There is payoff near the end, when the murder mystery gets tied up. Yet Wounded is just as interested in the ugly, less tangible crimes that John has uncovered, which, as in real life, remain unresolved.—Ken Foster