End of the Trail is a perfect example of western romance, even in the reason why Will and John embark in a same-sex relationship, basically the lack of women around. When Will and John met the first time, Will is happily married with a good woman and they have a son; they both help John when he needs it, and John helps them back. There is no hint of sexual interest in Will for John, and maybe you can read some innuendos in John’s replies to Will, but nothing more. Three years later though the situation is changed, Will is a widower and John is back and this time there is no woman in the middle.
I like how the author dealt with Will and his mourning the dead wife: true, he is sad and he still loves his wife, but we also read that when Will went to town, he satisfied his urges in a bordello. So Will is able to distinct between love and sex, and he is no shamed by his body’s desires. In a way Will is neither ashamed by the body itself, even when he was not interested by John in a sexual way, he did look at the body and he did appreciate the beauty of it. I think that basically Will is a man that is true to himself and able to go beyond what society is asking or pretending. Another thing that is totally unrelated to Will’s attitude towards sex, but that for me it proves that he is a realistic man, is his attitude towards Tommy, his son: it’s clear that Will loves Tommy, and that he has never forgotten his son, but when his wife dies, Will is not able to take care of Tommy; his wife’s relatives come and they take Tommy away, and Will accepts that; even when he is planning to move back east, in a romance setting the first think in Will’s mind would have been to take back Tommy, and instead he decides to let him live with his aunt; someone can read it as selfishness, I read it as a realistic decision.
On the other hand John is a bit of a romance hero; he is an outlaw, he has killed plenty of men, and not always they were bad men; but John apparently has always an explanation, something that makes him the hero and not the villain; John is always the wronged one and as such, Will has to absolve him for all his sins. I think that, in the end, John is a wonderful scoundrel, and that is a typical romance hero indead. What makes him different from a romance stereotype is that John has really no shame, he is not repentant and basically he would do all again, after all he had what he wanted.
So even if End of the Trail is a classical western romance, it doesn’t play exactly according to the rules, and I think this is a good read for who wants an enough realistic historical fiction that has not lost the romance perspective (and of course the happily ever after).