When we at ALU were thinking about starting a book club, June Hutton's Two-Gun & Sun was on everyone's list; perhaps because it had something for everyone: a steampunk fascination with turn-of-the-century technology like Zeppelins, printing presses, and early cars, a certain gunslinging-ness ascribed to frontier westerns, and themes from Puccini's La Fanciulla del West, itself being performed in the novel by a visiting troupe.
The narrative opens in 1922 with Lila Sinclair, a "spinster" in her late twenties, moving to the sooty mining town of Black Mountain to restart her deceased Uncle's newspaper business. She's there on a deadline: the business needs to be up and running in just one month, or the bank will seize it. Lila recruits a rebellious Chinese printer, Vincent Cruz, from the nearby settlement of Lousetown, and meets a pack of wild characters along the way, including a skilled clothing designer whose chief clientele are the women at the saloon/brothel, a hapless, self-appointed Sheriff and his questionable Deputy, and the historical figure Morris "Two-Gun" Cohen. Add in some corrupt mining officials, an impending performance of Puccini's opera, and a secretly visiting revolutionary from China, Sun Yat-Sen, and it's no wonder Lila can fill notebook after notebook with newsworthy scribblings about her dirty, bustling adopted home. In fact, take a look at Lila's first newssheet to see what happened in her brief first days as a Black Mountaineer.
Hutton's novel is both sweeping and meticulous: taking the reader with Lila over hill and dale in the area surrounding Black Mountain but also astraddle her ailing printing press, peering into its complex inner workings. Two-Gun is also emblematic of what its publisher, Caitlin Press, has striven to publish in its nearly 40 year history: stories reflective of both the rich and diverse histories and cultures of British Columbia, and stories emblematic of the wide array of women's experiences. We talked to Caitlin Press about what led them to publishing Two-Gun:
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Two-Gun & Sun was brought to Caitlin Press by an agent who's familiar with our interests in women writers, quirky stories, and the like. It was a perfect fit!
The cover design was initially designed and re-designed between Vici, the publisher, ideas from June [Hutton], the author, and a contract designer. After some initial concept design didn’t quite reach the tone, Vici mentioned how the tone of the book was supposed to be a combination of Old Western themes and the Art Deco style of the 1920s. In the end, the designer achieved this synthesis — two worlds colliding in small town Canada with the influence of European ideals. The book is made even more beautiful by the addition of French flaps and deckled edges – a nod to both its historical period and strong references to print culture.
The response to Two-Gun has been good – readers understand the mashup style of the characters and the quirky, blended nature of genres. Two-Gun & Sun found audiences across general fiction, historic fiction readers and even among the YA scene. Readers loved the wild imagery, commenting on everything from the clothes to bold plot line. It currently packs a 4.88 rating on Goodreads.
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