Sunday, August 30, 2009

Title Sixty: The Last Cowgirl by Jana Richman

I actually read this book months ago, and then re-read it after that. I'll put it on the stack of books to be reviewed, and then I take it off again and set it aside. I don't know why, but I just feel like I won't be able to do the book justice when I write about it. Then I realized that I need to get my ass in gear on this Challenge, so I resolved to do it. I apologize in advance, because the book deserves more than I'm about to give it. I just...I don't know how. I'm not that good.

Dickie Sinfield (only her father calls her by her given name of Darlene) had a normal suburban girlhood in Utah with manicured lawns and playing on the sidewalk in front of the house until the day her father decided that the family was going to move to a ranch outside of town so that he could follow his own childhood dream of becoming a cowboy. With the exception of Dickie's brother Heber, the family is less than enthused - Dickie misses her neighborhood and friends, her older sister Annie is horrified by the entire thing and spends her time out of the house or locked in her room, and their mother just quietly resents it. Her father's dream is only viable thanks to the efforts of two neighbors and fellow ranchers who would become more family than friends - Bev Christensen and Merv Nelson. A few years later, a local army base and the secrets beneath it would devastate all three ranchers, and Dickie would bolt for Salt Lake City as soon as she hit 18, where she would become a journalist and cut ties with her cowgirl past.

Dickie's story begins with the death of her brother Heber, an accident hushed up by the military base where he works - the same military base that played a role in the destruction of cattle herds decades earlier. Dickie is forced to confront the past in order to come to terms with Heber's death, and the story switches gracefully from the present day to Dickie's recollections of her youth, all told from her point of view. The novel ebbs and flows, unfolding at just the right pace. The plot folds in ranching, government research, environmentalism, Mormonism, family drama, friendship, betrayal, and acceptance in a fascinating way. It's not exactly a tale of redemption; it's more a tale of peace, and coming to terms with your life.

It's just so real. I think that's always been one of the best compliments I can give a book, because I want a story that I can believe in and characters I can know. I'm telling you, there is so much I'm missing here: Dickie's tumultuous relationship with Stumpy, Merv's grandson; her strained relationship with her father; the faithful details of cattle raising and ranch life; the pain of loss; Dickie's spiteful best friend Holly; the residents of Ganoa county and their uneasy acceptance of the military presence that provides jobs yet always casts a shadow of potential disaster. I just don't know how to incorporate all of my thoughts. This book is layered and thought-provoking and insightful and emotional. It's the book that any aspiring writer wants to create. It's lovely. I probably haven't made a very convincing argument here, because I'm babbling, but The Last Cowgirl is a gem. I hope that Richman keeps writing, because she has a fan here.

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