Ranch Girl by Maile Meloy, 2000
The magic trick:
Demonstrating the inertia that can take over small-town life even as major changes happen
“Ranch Girl” does a great job of highlighting the strange combination of dramatic change and complete inertia often inherent to small-town life. The ranch girl in the story as a teenager ascribes all of her future ambitions to a boy. The reader can see that this is a foolish, immature idea and one that could easily result in her wasting away in this limited Montana life. But then – spoiler alert – something violently bad happens. The boy is killed in a car accident. Such a drastic plot twist rattles the story, and the reader assumes it will also uproot the ranch girl’s life. Her ambitions for a ranch life with this boy spoiled, surely she will leave town and find something new, something bigger, right?
Well, no, actually. Like a character from Dubliners, this ranch girl seems paralyzed She is chained to this ranch life. Which, as the story ends, isn’t maybe the worst thing. And that’s quite a trick on Meloy’s part.
“You’re so lucky to have a degree and no kid,” Carla says. “You can still leave.”
And Carla is right: You could leave. Apply to grad school in Santa Cruz and live by the beach. Take the research job in Chicago that your chemistry professor keeps calling about. Go to Zihuatanejo with Haskell’s friends, who need a nanny. They have tons of room, because in Mexico you don’t have to pay property tax if you’re still adding on to the house.
But none of these things seem real; what’s real is the payments on your car and your mom’s crazy horses, the feel of the ranch road you can drive blindfolded and the smell of the hay. Your dad will need you in November to bring in the cows.
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