Stereotypes sink ‘The Last Cowgirl’
Vail CO, Colorado
Maybe it is true; maybe men just don’t understand women at all. We don’t understand their mood swings, their reasoning or their behavior. Sure, that is all quite possible. If that is truly the case though, and a man were to read this book, it would also be affirmed that women are (for the most part) extremely fragile creatures who have absolutely no self control when it comes to their brittle emotions. I guess the hope is that this isn’t the case. Everyone knows a woman who is far from feeble emotionally and physically and it would be unfortunate for someone to read this book and believe the only way a woman could possibly turn out strong is to be brought up a rancher.
In Jana Richman’s second book revolving around Mormons, and her first work of fiction, she manages to create exactly those two characters (the strong cowgirl and every other woman in the book ” feeble as all get out), and a virtual carnival of other stereotypes.
Dickie Sinfield is the most feeble little girl ever, and a series of devastating (read mildly embarrassing and pretty standard “disasters” for a child ” until one day in her teen years) events turn her into a grown woman incapable of loving, accepting her family, letting go of the past, or doing anything that would make her remotely resemble an emotionally healthy human being.
Dickie Sinfield is a small city Mormon girl turned country bumpkin and, thanks to a very temperamental and occasionally abusive father obsessed with the idea of ranching, she’s a psychiatrist’s dream. Her hypocritical (and hypercritical) family, her childhood love Stumpy, and her manipulative childhood best friend Holly, are all fodder for her literally unstoppable weeping.
The story is stereotype after stereotype for farmers, cowboys, small town folk, fathers, mothers, siblings, the military and the government. Potentially the only thing that is original in this novel is the real life fiction aspects about the military’s chemical weapons testing in Utah since the Vietnam War. It’s these few glimpses into the atrocities that Dickie witnesses as a teenager, and has to deal with later in her life, that save this book from being completely absurd. It’s hard to argue that experiences such as those that happen in “The Last Cowgirl” surrounding chemical testing wouldn’t scar any human being with a heart, and it’s the backlash from these experiences which ultimately tears Dickie’s family apart.
At times a poorly organized love story, this book also tries to affirm one stereotype of women that really isn’t true and should prove offensive to any intelligent female reader. Richman seems to be saying that it is a man (in the majority of cases) that completes a woman. What makes this seem so much worse is that there are strong female characters in the book, and yet even they are ultimately needy for someone else (not always a man, they just aren’t ever comfortable on their own). Even the silent and rock hard Bev admits her awkward obsession with the Sinfield family (specifically Dickie’s mother), showing how badly she needs someone else to take care of. Only the men (who all happen to be rugged, tough, etc.) manage to get along just fine on their own (albeit while being very disgruntled), even when they don’t have what they want or their lives are falling apart, which tends to happen fairly often in this novel.
“The Last Cowgirl” is a quick read and does have interesting parts. All in all though it is a goofy romance novel with traces of intelligence interspersed as sparsely as the town of Clayton, where the book takes place. If one can wade through the rivers of cheese served up, there are a few tasty morsels, all in all though, it’s mostly mold.
Andrew Fersch writes weekly book reviews for the Vail Daily. E-mail comments about this review to firstname.lastname@example.org. This book is available for purchase at the Bookworm in Edwards.