By February 22, 2008 0 Comments Read More →

Cattle Drives the Conversation

Most book group facilitators don’t choose genre fiction for discussions and if they do, they lean towards mysteries or science fiction.

Today, I want to show-and-tell a Western I think works well in a discussion. I don’t know about all Westerns, but I know about this one, The Last Cattle Drive by Robert Day.

This first novel was published in 1977 and is a cult fave in the Midwest. Not the Midwest that includes Chicago or Minnesota, but the Midwest of Kansas, Missouri, Colorado and Oklahoma, the Plains States. Enough geography. Now you know where the book is set.

The story: Spangler Star Tukle is a rancher who’s just been informed, none too politely, that it will cost more than his cattle are worth to send them to the stockyards in Kansas City via truck or train. After pitching the most colorful of fits, Spangler and his ranch hands decide they will have a good old fashioned cattle drive right down I-70 and into Kansas City.

Spangler, his wife Opal, and their two hired hands, Jed (the last of the real cowboys), and Leo (cowboy lite), wrangle over 200 head, one rabid cat, and a barmy calf, on their way East to the wilds of Kansas City. Along the way the four-wheel drive quartet hook up with a movie crew, Leo chooses his horse over his girlfriend, and they all tour the stone Garden of Eden.

What makes this book discussable? Well, the language for one. The blue language. One of the topics my group enjoyed addressing is how an author creates a character using the vernacular. Also how an author can create fluid and musical language using cuss words you didn’t know existed. The second topic to discuss is civilization and chaos, whose society is civilized and whose is chaotic. The typical Western hero provides fun fodder for conversation, too. What makes Spangler a typical cowboy hero and what makes him different? How did Day tweak our notion of the mythological cowboy to create Spangler? What other stereotypical objects, characters, places and/or scenes is Day altering slightly for a modern western?

This book is great fun, but warn your readers. The language is rough. However, it’s the most creative use of invective I’ve ever read in my life.

Don’t bug me now. I’m going to go re-read my favorite part. The one where Spangler mouths off to the waitress in the diner.

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About the Author:

Kaite Mediatore Stover refuses to give up her day job as director of readers' services for The Kansas City Public Library to read tarot cards professionally or be the merch girl/roadie for her husband's numerous bands. Follow her on Twitter at @MarianLiberryan.

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