Cliven Bundy, nothin’. Real Western ranchers pay their taxes—but kick up a fuss when they have to, as McGarrity’s modern Western has it.
Moving the intergenerational saga begun in Hard Country (2012) into the near present, McGarrity serves up a tough but tender cowboy who wants nothing more than to keep to himself out in the Tularosa country of New Mexico. Matt Kerney has been beaten up in love and war. Worse still, he’s about to come face to face with the Air Force, which has been buzzing his spread. Says Matt: “Just tell your general or whoever is in charge of the flyboys to pay me for my two dead ponies.” Says the lackey, you betcha, but without conviction, for it turns out the feds want his place to expand nearby White Sands Missile Range. If this part of the program sounds familiar, it’s because Ed Abbey hit on it with more dramatic force half a century ago in his novel Fire on the Mountain. What McGarrity adds is a finer-grained sense of place and of attachment to New Mexico; when a rancher paterfamilias intones “Don’t let them on our land” anent the Air Force minions, the reader will have already developed a good understanding of what ties those people to a dry and dusty place. A former sheriff, he also has a good way of dealing with the politics of lowland New Mexico and of hierarchical organizations, whether it be Matt’s subsequent misadventures with the ag-extension crowd or a descendant’s bumpy path through the Vietnam-era military. The story lacks much tension, certainly as compared to its own predecessor in the saga, but it has a certain bucolic charm: “After a long day working them, I used to love to come out here in the cool of the evening and see my ponies lazing in the pasture. God, they were as pretty as they come.”
A latter-day oater, of some interest to fans of the genre.