ME, THE BEEF, AND THE BUM by Charles Hammer

ME, THE BEEF, AND THE BUM

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KIRKUS REVIEW

It's an odd trio, all right--4-H girl Rosie Matlock; the Charolais steer, George, she's rescuing from ""humane slaughter""; and the bum, Mett Halsey, she meets after giving the police a crazy chase. The next suspect note is Mett's 1-2 observation that ""You almost halfway want to be caught, anyhow""--which Rosie readily admits to herself. So the thematic jig is pretty much up (with the parallel between Mett's drinking and Rosie's Flight-from-Reality also in sight) by the time the three head for Mett's bit of inherited Kansas farmland. You might read on for the novelty of the traipse; then, for the scrapes they get into. One night they walk in on some cattle-rustling; leave behind two squashed rustlers--Mett told George, ""Roll over""; and take off in the rustlers' truck. Mett finds the rustlers' bottle, and Rosie has a siam-bang time getting the hang of driving. (""George had it figured by then that humane slaughter would be a pretty good deal."") To disguise George, they spot his white hide with brown dye (first arguing about brands)--which, in sight of the rustlers, the rain washes off (Rosie's fault, for buying a cheap brand). But, just come from the rodeo, Mett talks up George as an ""attack steer."" Meanwhile, Mett's life story comes somberly out: how he seduced plain, adoring Louise; married her offhandedly, made love with her constantly, fell in astonishing love with her; lost her in a fire. (Hence his guilty flight-to-oblivion, his last-act return home.) Meanwhile, too, Rosie mulls over her own motivations--aware that her father's looking for her, letting him know she's all right. At the farm, Mett solves the problem of keeping a 1400-lb. steer--training George as a comic rodeo act. He also gets ready to die, and recovers. And, when Rosie's Dad appears, she figures out the why of running away (starting from not going, as a tot, to her mother's funeral), and is ready to go back. The variegated parts make for a checkered, rigged whole, with the Mett-and-Louise flashback both hollow and out-of-whack. But, as a police-dodging steed or a rodeo steer, George puts on a swell performance.

Pub Date: March 19th, 1984
Publisher: Farrar, Straus & Giroux