Review: City of Lovely Brothers by Anel Viz

“The City of Lovely Brothers” is a family saga, the history of Caladelphia Ranch, jointly owned by four brothers, Calvin, Caleb, Calhoun and Caliban Caldwell – how it grew and prospered, and how rivalry between the brothers led to its breaking up and decline. As the story evolves, it focuses on the love affair between the youngest brother, Caliban, who is lame, and Nick, one of their ranch hands, and how their relationship set the stage for the already open feud to explode and ultimately caused the demise of the ranch.

Review contains spoilers

Review by Gerry Burnie

I enjoy this type of family saga; especially if it involves interesting, colourful characters. In this regard, The City of Lovely Brothers by Anel Viz [Silver Publishing, November 2010] has a full cast of them.

The author’s approach is to conjure up a fictional city, “Caladelphia,” Montana, as though it actually existed. Moreover, by referring to its street maps, city limits and equally fictional landmarks—i.e. “Hokey Hill Mall,” he does a very convincing job of it, as well. It is also a clever way of introducing the Caldwell family, their history, and the four disparate brothers—Calvin, Caleb, Calhoun and Caliban. There is also a sister, Callie, who plays a supporting role to the others.

Calvin, the oldest of the siblings, is a stern, humourless man who assumes the role of head of the Caldwell clan after both parents die. He fills this role quite well, too, and apart from being somewhat dictatorial he is a good manager; expanding the ranch until it is one of the largest outfit in the territory.

Caleb is the next oldest, boisterous and a hard drinker—which ultimately contributes to his destruction.

Calhoun is a strong personality in his own right. It is inevitable, therefore, that these two should clash in an extreme case of sibling rivalry; especially when Calvin undertakes to severely discipline him for impregnating a servant girl.

Finally, Caliban is the baby of family blessed with good looks that are almost “Too pretty to be a man.” Moreover his good nature matches his looks, such that “No one could resist his laughing eyes and kind smile.”

Part II of the story then goes on to trace the rising fortunes of the Caldwell ranch, later named Caladelphia—meaning “The City of the Cal Brothers.” But the Greek translation could also mean “pretty” or “lovely” brothers. Ergo, the title.

Along the way a number of events transpire that are meaningful to the story. Needing a woman keep house, Calvin sets out on a quest to find a wife, and returns with one; a quite realistic touch, for it was often done that way without undue wonderment on anyone’s part.

Secondly, Calvin administers a humiliating whipping on his fifteen-year-old brother, Calhoun, for impregnating a servant girl; causing a lifetime rift between the two. And, thirdly, Caliban is thrown from a horse; sustaining a hip fracture that is poorly treated by the local doctor. This necessitates a trip to the populated community of Billings, Montana, where he is properly treated but requires several months convalescence. The time is well spent, however, because he advances his education through reading; such that he becomes reasonably well read. His brother Caleb comes to Billings to escort Caliban home, and also to further his sex education—although nothing physical transpires between them.

All of this is artfully woven together and advances the story at a pace that keeps the reader’s interest moving along. This pace continues as Caliban, concerned about how he might support himself when his hip gives out, decides to become a teacher. This necessitates a two-year absence from the ranch, and while in Laramie he is approached at least once by a man who is drawn to his beauty. However, Caliban rebuffs him.

While he is away Caleb decides to marry, and Caliban decides to ask one of his stable hands, Nick, to share his remote Cabin. Their friendship had been growing quite close, and since they were both single it seemed like a practical thing to do. Calvin objects on the basis that Caliban would be fraternizing with an employee, but Calvin is overruled by his wife, Darcie. On his return, therefore, Caliban and Nick discover that they share more than just a cabin, and for the first time Caliban is in love.

In Part III, Caliban and Nick are now a couple; albeit covertly, and the author has cleverly introduced a fictional diary that Nick has been maintaining since childhood. This gives their love story a certain aura of authenticity, and through their eyes we see the relationship between the other brothers deteriorating—particularly between Calhoun and Calvin. This situation is exacerbated as Calvin begins to subdivide the home-section of the ranch into a village-type development—which Calhoun criticizes as taking away from the ranch. In short, there is no middle ground for these two characters, and thereby the seeds of destruction of Caladelphia as a ranch are sown.

There is much that can be favourably said about this story. It is cleverly conceived; journalistically it is well written; and the first and second parts move along quite nicely. However, in the third part the pace is burdened by superfluous detail that doesn’t seem to add anything to the story. Moreover it is frequently repetitious, giving the impression that the author has lost control of the narrative.

Apart from these reservations, it remains a good read and is recommended on that basis.

Silver Publishing

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