By Channing Joseph
Updated August 26, 2005 at 04:00 AM EDT

The Wyoming desert can be both beautiful and brutal, and Percival Everett’s ambitious story reflects its stark physical setting: Clearly inspired by the 1998 Matthew Shepard murder, Wounded traces a small Western town’s reaction to the grisly killing of a gay teen. The book boasts touching moments and likable, work-worn cowboy characters — from John Hunt, the lonely black horse trainer who opens his home to his friend’s estranged gay son, to his uncle Gus, the health-food-obsessed, elderly ex-con who cooks the meals on the ranch and shoots bad guys. Despite Everett’s oddball sense of humor (”He’s tenser than a Republican with a thought of his own”), Wounded is ultimately undone by slow pacing, overuse of ranching terminology, and heavy-handed treatment of themes like racial bigotry and homophobia.