Gabriel’s Story

Written by David Anthony Durham
Review by Cindy Vallar

“I reckon we’re nowhere.”

This declaration comes from Gabriel Lynch at his first sight of 1870’s Kansas, a flat prairie with few trees and soddies, houses built from dirt cut from the earth. Raised in Baltimore, Gabriel is angry that his father died, his mother has remarried, and she has brought his brother and him West to farm. When reality fails to live up to his stepfather’s description of their property, Gabriel’s resentment grows and is fueled by the blatant prejudice he encounters because he is an African American. It takes glimpses of a lone Indian and cowboys attempting to turn stampeding cattle for him to believe that “adventure was skirting the edges … offering occasional glimpses that tempted with promises more mythical than the thin tales of cheap novels.”

Mr. Durham captures the blandness that is Kansas with such clarity that Gabriel’s emotions seep into the reader as muddy rain seeps through a soddy. The old adage “Be careful what you wish for” permeates this coming-of-age story, for Gabriel tastes adventure, but not in the way he expects. This is not a “Hollywood” western, but a realistic portrayal of the hardships, rewards, and violence – made more vivid by what is left unsaid – inherent in living in a place where the forces of nature and man can wreak devastation in the blink of an eye.