“Stick Horses and Other Stories of Ranch Life” by Wallace McRae
In early April we received a copy signed by Wally before our Oklahoma trip and packed his collection of short stories with us to read. I was tickled to be included on his list, even though neither Robbin nor I had time to crack its covers while we were gone. I wanted to write Wally to thank him, but because I hadn’t read a sentence, it would have been a very empty ‘thank-you’ despite any promises to get back to him when I got around to his book. I know him well enough to know he would have wanted, and expected, more.
Upon our return nearly two weeks later, the Post Office had two bushels of accumulated mail, within which was another signed copy of “Stick Horses”. Though doubly blessed, I felt twice the guilt for not responding. Our following six weeks were spent weaning calves.
We left for the coast last Sunday with two copies of “Stick Horses”, two typewritten manuscripts and a copy of “Close Range” by Annie Proulx among several other books we had earmarked to read. Heyday Press is publishing the delightful children’s book, “Blue Jay Girl” by Sylvia Ross, a myth-like story of a Yokuts girl learning to live with her bold nature. Once an illustrator for Disney, Sylvia’s artwork is also quite vivid and unique. Perhaps what struck me most was that this story is magically universal, a Native American allegory, for all kids and all times.
Robbin was midway through the second manuscript “Rightful Place” by Amy Auker, so I grabbed-up Annie Proulx while she finished. Though Proulx reads to me as more of an observer than a native of Wyoming, she’s a very powerful and talented writer. Though I don’t pretend to know Wyoming, one or two of her short stories seemed a bit postured, a bit too condensed in the minimalist sense, but overall, riveting community cameos on an unforgiving landscape. And after reading the last short story of the collection, I concluded that the over-heralded movie version of “Brokeback Mountain” missed much of the art of the original text.
However unlike Proulx, Amy Auker reads from the ground up. Her love for the land and culture of Texas ranch families is rich with detail that only a native can reveal and share openly. Let’s hope it’s available soon.
By the time I got to Wally's marble sorting with cousin Carol in “All the World’s a Stage”, as surf pounded the gray California coastline, I realized that we, all of us ranch families, actually have a culture full of contemporary writers – not a few cowboys reciting someone else’s poetry – quite remarkable, if you’d been there twenty-some odd years ago at Elko. Pride, perhaps, is what I feel most reading these short stories. I’m proud for Wally’s work and storytelling accomplishment, proud of his hardscrabble Montana family and community, and though his are uniquely entertaining and insightful, I’m also proud of my own neck of the woods. Storytelling is a lost art for many obvious reasons, but these valuable antidotes tell who we are by where we’ve come from. These tales are full of common sense and a once common rural ethic that has been lost to most all of us with progress. And though this collection may be a window to understanding for outsiders, a glimpse of our culture, these stories are really written for us. Not unlike his poetry, his line is precise and firm, but with the art that only great storytellers possess.
Thank you, Wally.
Get this one, now:
$19.99 cloth. 168 pp. Gibbs Smith Publishers, P.O. Box 667, Layton, UT 84041