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Publishers Weekly, 1999-02-01 Newly divorced, having left his job as assistant managing editor of the San Francisco Examiner, McCumber (Playing Off the Rail) set out to see what life as a cowboy was like. The guest was part of what he calls "a rather thoroughgoing midlife metamorphosis." It is telling that he chooses the word "metamorphosis" rather than "crisis," for McCumber eagerly embraces his new life and spends hardly any energy mourning his old one. He soon found out that the cowboys of a real working ranch are not the stuff of popular culture. For starters, they rarely use horses (they often use what McCumber calls "Japanese quarter horses," a nickname for four-wheel all-terrain vehicles). Death is a constant threat to the herd and to the area's wild animals. Because of that, perhaps, McCumber and the other men of the ranch have a genuine respect for animals. But it's a tough respect, one that inspires McCumber to slit the throat of a doe who has cut an artery on a barbed-wire fence. What McCumber reveals of himself, he does so indirectly, through his descriptions of life on the Birch Creek Ranch, where the seasons are marked by the extremes of weather and the stages of cattle ranching?calving, branding, fencing, etc. Even his brief journal entries, interspersed throughout the book, look outward rather than inward. McCumber can be salty in one sentence, lyrical in the next, whimsical, stoic and, only occasionally, wistful. His book will creep up on readers, who will come away with admiration for McCumber and a strong, vibrant sense of the ranching life he has come to love. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
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