In this debut novel, Harder brings a sharp, folkloric sensibility and plenty of humor to the not-so-wild West of 1970s Wyoming.
In 1977, Flynn McGuin is thrilled to be hopping a westward bus from Mudrock, Missouri, to travel to his new gig as a ranch hand. At the Wigglin’ W Ranch in Annelida, Wyoming, he’ll be able to rope and ride—and it’ll get him away from his depressing job in charge of a parking lot that no one uses. But instead of finding hard, honest work and the ideal of cowboy brotherhood, he finds a bizarre, ongoing feud, a reputedly violent foreman, and fellow workers who don’t seem to be aware of what century it is, let alone how to run a ranch. He’s ready to leave soon after he arrives, but then he stumbles into a saloon and finds love at first sight with a woman named Jolene. Flynn decides to tough it out, even if it goes against his better judgment. However, he soon makes enemies; meanwhile, his co-workers’ eccentricities get more pronounced, and the object of his affection puts new meaning to the phrase “hard to get.” It’s clear that his cowboy dream is rapidly becoming a comedy of errors. Whether he can make it through the summer is uncertain, but there’ll certainly be laughs along the way. Harder’s prose throughout is solid, and he creates a great first-person narrative voice for Flynn. He portrays him as a fish out of water, but one with plenty of wit behind his observations. As much as the situations provide moments of humor, Flynn’s perspective is a vital element that makes the depiction of cow-hating ranch owners and other players really pop. Many other humorists might have exhausted the wild and crazy characters after only a few short jabs about their particular eccentricities, but Harder’s steady pacing keeps things fresh and engaging throughout. All-in-all, the novel is fast, fun, and a little disorienting—a bull ride that readers aren’t likely to forget.
A unique and delightful modern Western that’s more City Slickers than True Grit.