BASS 2010 – Maggie Shipstead, “Cowboy Tango”


I was dreading this story since I got the book last September, because I hate cowboy stories. So I was pleasantly surprised to find myself really enjoying this. I did lose interest a little once it became evident it was simply a love triangle in a different setting, but the setting was realistically portrayed (as far as I know, never having been anywhere near a ranch or the west). I was surprised to find out via the Virginia Quarterly Review interview accompanying this story’s original publication that Maggie Shipstead has never been in Montana, either, though she was spending time in Colorado which is pretty Western, I suppose. And she’s ridden pretty extensively, albeit Eastern style, so she understands and appreciates horses. She also had a friend fill her in on some details, such as the way in which horses were disposed of once they outlived their usefulness. But she admits “Plenty of other details are pure invention or composites.” I find it interesting how some authors invest a lot of time and energy researching minute details, and others just wing it. This felt real enough to be the former.

There’s an interesting, if sometimes intrusive, use of Sammy’s braid that reminds me of a horse’s bridle. And the whole tango idea. The story moves over years and decades; what might’ve happened over the course of six months in Philadelphia or a small New England town takes much longer in Big Sky country. I think that’s appropriate. I also enjoyed how the story resolved itself at the auction. It was, all in all, just a tale of unrequited love, and I suppose if I enjoyed the Lion Tamer story (though not as much as Zin did) I have to give allowances for this as well. I can’t be enthusiastic about it, but I’m happy to consider it’s more my own prejudices than the story.

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