Like many others, who maybe did a little too much at the end of the year, my 2019 reading year has not gotten off to a good start. While I have read some really good books already my reading felt sluggish. I've started and abandoned too many books. However choosing to start reading Caroline's Heart at 4:30 in the morning was absolutely the best decision.
Austin Chant's Peter Darling was one of my favorite reads of last year. I immediately went out and bought Chant's other two books, Coffee Boy and Caroline's Heart, because if they were half as good as Peter Darling, they would be absolutely worth reading. I didn't binge read them however, I held on to them, because I knew I would want to save them for a day when I needed a good book to read, like I needed to breathe.
Caroline's Heart is the story of Roy, a trans cowboy, who is living a quiet and lonely life on a ranch in Texas, working hard, and saving up his money, dreaming of his own place. His ordinary life is disrupted by the arrival of Cecily. Cecily is a witch, weaving intricate spells to animate artificial limbs and blessing crops and cattle in exchange for generous payments and supplies. Roy is fascinated by Cecily, drawn to her, despite her sharp words and dangerous aura.
Since the death of her beloved, Caroline, Cecily has only lived for her work, obsessively working on a spell to bring Caroline back to life. She is just a little bit charmed by Roy's eagerness and curiosity about her witchcraft until she realizes that the best energy she has been collecting in the leathers she needs for her spell has been his. Recognizing that compatibility and similarity to her Caroline, distresses her more than she can admit.
I loved how Chant unwound Cecily & Roy story. Chant capture the loneliness of Cecily's grief, how it has consumed all her energies, unwilling to contemplate having to go on with her life without Caroline and how a split-second decision, changed both their lives dramatically. They end up having to face up to that grief, to the new realities and both make room in their lives for each other's losses. They tentatively learn each other's rhythms, and each others truths, slowly binding themselves to each other. I loved how much Roy loved becoming someone useful to Cecily, caring for the things she doesn't think to take care of and herself. And I loved how Cecily was so open to listening and understanding Roy.
This story is emotional, creative and unexpected. I would have loved to spend more time in that world, with it curious and seemingly effortless mix of magic and old west setting, unpacking all the possibilities. I am so glad I read it.
Content Warnings: Guns, gun violence, mentions of past trauma: transphobia, family estrangement, grief.