A young woman in 1950s America tries to pursue her dream.
Inspired by the life of American matadora Patricia McCormick, McNicholl’s (A Son Called Gabriel, 2004) novel offers a fresh perspective on sex discrimination in the workplace. Nineteen-year-old Kathleen Boyd is studying at an art school in Rowansville, Texas, not far from Mexico. But her true love is bullfighting. The book opens with an exciting set piece about Kathleen sneaking into a ring in Garza, Mexico, to take on a bull that’s “three-quarters the length of a new 1950 Cadillac.” She performs some admirable cape work but then her hat falls off. She’s a woman. She loses her cool, is nearly gored, and runs for the protective barrier and then keeps running. Businessman Vincente Barros tracks her down and offers her lessons, with an eye to profiting off her once she makes it. She accepts, preferring the art “made in an open theater.” First, she must convince her fiance and her mother, who are both against it. They both lose. So it’s off to Los Pinos, where Barros has secured a teacher for her, Fermin Guzman, an accomplished, retired matador. She moves into a women’s dormitory and begins the grueling lessons that will teach her all that Guzman knows. It won’t be easy, of course, and then there’s the discrimination a woman in the '50s must deal with (it’s worse in Mexico) and then there’s her rape and then there’s Julio, a handsome young matador who takes her under his wing. The material about bullfighting—its history, language (veronica, rebolera, farole) and the beautiful outfits—is fascinating but the story itself lacks sparkle.
The subject matter is certainly important and the setting fresh, but the overall presentation is lackluster.