Cowboy by Thomas McGuane, 2005
The magic trick:
Putting a maudlin portrait of domesticity into the mouth of a rough and rugged cowboy narrator
Our narrator in “Cowboy” doesn’t brag and boast, but the message is clear: he’s a tough customer. He’s a loner with sharp tongue and a questionable past. And he’s good at ranch stuff, a real man’s man. So it’s kind of funny when you step back from the narrative near the end and think about the direction in which it’s gone. The direction? Pretty sweet and maudlin. Turns out this is just a story about three people who fall into a very pleasant routine of domesticity. There is a strong bond of mutual respect and appreciation there, if now downright love. It’s a great mix – all these traditionally manly and womanly feelings blending together – for a story. And that’s quite a trick on McGuane’s part.
We rode through the cattle pritnear ever day year round, and he come to trust me enough to show how his breeding program went, with culls and breedbacks and outcrosses and replacements, and took me to bull sales and showed me what to expect in a bull and which ones were correct and which were sorry. One day we’s looking at a pen of yearling bulls on this outfit near Luther and he can’t make up his mind and he says he wished his sister was with him and he starts snuffling and says she had an eye on her wouldn’t quit. So I stepped up and picked three bulls out of that pen, and he quit snuffling and said damn if I didn’t have an eye on me, too. That was the beginning of our partnership.