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4 2 6 W e s t e r n A m e r ic a n L it e r a t u r e W i n t e r 2 0 0 9 The Last Cowgirl. By Jana Richman. New York: William Morrow, 2008. 292 pages, $24.95. Reviewed by Andrew Wingfield George Mason University, Fairfax, Virginia To read The Last Cowgirl, Jana Richman’s first novel, is to ride a well-traveled trail alongside a new companion whose fresh eyes offer glimpses of things previ­ ously unnoticed. Richman’s book features plenty of elements familiar to readers who have roamed the literary West: the father who is all too willing to sacrifice the needs—material and otherwise— of other family members in his fierce pur­ suit of a dubious western dream, the sensitive literary kid struggling to thrive in the harsh climate this hard-hearted patriarch generates. We know these figures because Wallace Stegner introduced them to us. We know—because William Kittredge has evoked it before—this ranching community populated by men and women who would rather ride through a hailstorm than talk about their feelings. The ghost of Mark Reisner, another old friend, hovers above the page as we read this novel’s description of a Utah landscape scaned with “alkali flats created from flood irrigation, ... groundwater depletion by more than a half trillion gallons a year, ... land sunk thirty or more feet from irrigation pump­ ing, and ... massive erosion in national forests from overgrazing, all to sate the rugged, individualistic western rancher who insists ... that the arid West adapt to him instead of the other way around” (105). Perhaps none of Richman’s literary influences leaps as quickly to mind as Terry Tempest Williams. Like Williams, Richman populates her pages with sharply drawn Mormons whose personal dramas could not play out on a more apt stage than the landscape of rural Utah, with its portentous weave of natural beauty, cultural history, and toxic contamination. The Sinfield family (that surname is more portentous than necessary) starts out living a “curb-and-gutter life” in the small town of Ganoa, but the children are still in elementary school when George, a schoolteacher, lays claim to a piece of arid ranchland in Clayton. The new home isn’t many miles from the old one—the kids don’t even have to switch schools—but miles are not the only measure of distance. The move affects each Sinfield differently. George finds passion and heartbreak raising cattle too close to Dugway Proving Ground, where the US military tests weapons of mass destruction. George’s neglected wife, Ruth, fights isolation by having an affair with a handsome officer. Heber, their son, takes to ranching immediately, keen to develop his roping skills and his cowboy drawl. Annie, the middle child, would rather paint her toenails than brand a calf. She becomes a vegetarian. Darlene, the young­ est, nanates this family drama from the vantage point of middle age, working scenes from a stormy past into her account of a present-day reckoning provoked by Heber’s untimely death. BO O K R E VIE W S 4 2 7 Dickie, as Darlene is universally known, holds in her gender-bending nick­ name the key to her character— even, perhaps, to the whole book. Welcome to Utah, land of ambiguity! A place where national security sometimes means livestock and people poisoned by weapons designed to protect us. Where Mormon social codes are more complicated, and sometimes less repressive, than they might appear to the uninitiated. And where a grown-up woman, a smart and successful reporter in Salt Lake City, can’t completely resist when the smell of sagebrush and saddle leather, and the warmth of an old flame, draw her back to settle her family’s unfinished business on the land. Jane Qilmore Rushing: A West Texas Writer and Her Work. By Lou Halsell Rodenberger. Lubbock: Texas Tech University Press, 2006. 175 pages, $29.95. Reviewed by Max Despain United States Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs Several critics describe J. Frank Dobie and his peers as classic Texas writers. That grouping subscribes to the concept of a “Texas Mystique” or...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 426-427
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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