“The Day Beth Leather Shot the Moon, As Told by Rosemary Bonebreak” by Sarah McGill (6006 words)
No Spoilers: Rosemary Bonebreaker is the younger daughter in a medical family in a small town visited by a traveling librarian once a year. Only Beth Leather isn’t a regular librarian, and atop her trusty steed she courses through the sky, rides the Milky Way, and charms her way from town to town. At first, Beth falls in with Rose’s sister, but over time relationships shift, and Rose never loses her desire to go on an adventure, to see the lands of the sky. The piece is full of a longing and desolation, Rose’s life bounded by the salt flats around her and by the dreary and difficult routine of surviving in a harsh land. Beth is her breath of air, her hope, her bit of magic, who brings stories of romance and adventure with her. She’s a tall tale herself, and Rose can’t seem to help but fall for that, for everything that Beth represents. The West is not a place with an abundance of happy endings, though, and what happens is complex and difficult, full of the desperation to escape but also the realities of life, that sometimes adventures aren’t what you hope they’ll be.
Keywords: Western, Queer MC, Libraries, Floods, Horses, Guns, Moons
Review: There’s such a yearning feel to this story that I love, that finds Rosemary isolated and ready for a bit of magic. Ready to leave her home and her family behind at least for a while and go on an adventures. It’s something that the books that Beth brings allow her to do, but at the same time they convince her of the possibility of going, of really going into the sky. And Beth, too, needs to believe, needs other people to believe so that it will make all the travel and the pain and grueling work worth it. For me, at least, the story finds Beth in constant pain, worn by headaches and possible nerve damage, going because she wants to outrun the mundane parts of herself and fully embody the tall tale. The woman who can shoot the moon and wear stars in her hat. But I feel like the story does a great job of showing here the cracks might show through the picture that Rose paints in her mind. The picture that Rose’s sister seems to share for a while before she sees through it.
And I just feel so much for Rose, needing to believe in all of it because her life is all about other people’s pain, about the ugliness of their illnesses and their deaths. So she does need some bit of magic, some bit of fantasy. To make all the hardship mean something, part of a story that is heading toward a happy ending. When really, there aren’t too many happy endings in the West. And, as someone warns them both at one point, setting out to do something like shoot the moon might seem like a good idea, but once you’ve done it... And I think that’s what the story explores, that when Rose begins to step outside her life and into the story, it wrecks things. The story needs to reassert itself before she can learn that there is no land in the sky, and all the stories that Beth told might have been lies. Rose needs the stories, the way they give meaning and shape to her world, and so the stories remain, even if that’s all she’ll have to hold to of Beth. Even if it means she’ll be alone again.
And yeah, wow, it’s definitely a wrenching read for me, because I did want so badly for Rose to be able to escape, for her to find some place where the magic is real. And for me the story is about grappling with that, with the reality that magic can only be real if it’s just beyond the horizon. If it’s the land of stories of things that happened just over there, or on the edge of here, when the borders are thin, when the sky is ready to open and the floods come. That magic is how people make the difficulties they face and the awesome power of the world they’re struggling to live in seem...logical. Or at least part of a story where they are the good guys, the heroes, and out there somewhere is a person who has bested the world, who has shot the moon and lassoed the sun and taken control of something in a place where everything seems cruel and harsh and utterly beyond control. And it is a fantastic read!