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Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Shadow’s Stand By Sarah McCarty
passion rating: hot
Dear Ms. McCarty,
In general, with the exception of Deadwood, I have never been a fan of the western. I’ve read good things about your Hell’s Eight series, however, so I thought I’d see if perhaps your book Shadow’s Stand might be the western that changed my mind. After finishing it, I am open to reading another western. That said, I don’t think it will be one of yours.
My struggle with Shadow’s Standbegan with the opening scene. The time is the summer of 1859; the place, the West Kansas territory. Fei Yen, a young Chinese American woman, needs a husband and she needs him fast. There’s a new law that forbids Chinese from holding mining claims and Fei has a claim on which she’s found gold. (Were you were referencing the Foreign Miners Tax passed in California in 1850 that taxed any non-citizen—which meant non-white–claim owners at astronomical rates?) There’s also, in your book,—I couldn’t find any mention of such a law after a cursory internet search so I’m taking your word for this—a law that allows a woman to take a condemned man as a husband thus saving him from death and giving her a spouse. This law also states that should the woman become displeased with her convict, she may return him to the gallows where he will be immediately hung.
Fei, who has just locked her literally crazy father in the cellar and has no one to turn to, rides into town and claims the half Mexican, half American Indian Shadow Ochoa just as he’s about to be hung. Shadow, though, despite the noose around his neck, refuses to be claimed by Fei until she actually asks him to marry her. The sheriff, racist asshole that he is, starts to hang Shadow before Fei has a chance to say anything. Fei grabs up a knife conveniently sticking out of a nearby boot, runs up Shadow’s body and, as he is choking to death, saws through the noose around his neck and, in the literal nick of time, cuts him down. Even after she’s saved his life, he still won’t take her up on her offer until she gasps out “Marry me,” to which he replies, “I thought you’d never ask.”
None of this made much sense to me. If Fei needs someone who could legally protect her claim, why pick Shadow, a non-white? Won’t he run up against the same prejudices and laws limiting the Chinese? The men hanging Shadow are violent racist drunks; Fei, a young unmarried attractive “half-breed” Chinese with an out of it dad, lives near them and yet none of these cretins have managed to rape or harm her. Shadow viciously fights the men trying to hang him, despite having his hands tied behind his back, and yet, when offered escape, he refuses it. This seemed unlikely to me. One moment he’s fighting for his life and the next he needs to be wooed?
After the two are (maybe legally, maybe not) married by a drunken “padre,” Fei, who married Shadow so she’d have protection, then asks the same men she’s worried will harm her and steal her claim to put Shadow in shackles and toss him in her wagon. Fei puts the key to the shackles “into the lace-trimmed pocket above her breast” and Shadow thinks “Of all the things that pissed him off about the last day, it was her drawing attention to her breasts that he resented the most.” REALLY? Being beaten, hung, knifed, and shackled all rankled less than having to notice his new wife has breasts?