By Wallace McRae. (Gibbs Smith Publishers, 2009. P.O. Box 667, Layton, UT 84041) www.gibbs-smith.com 168 pp. Cloth $19.99
It is difficult to be objective reviewing this attractively bound collection of short stories without some pride in the evolution of cowboy poetry since the mid-1980s, within which Wallace McRae has been a major influence and mainstay. And though there are several published collections of short stories on the genre’s bookshelves, STICK HORSES will be what future collections will be measured against, in part because of his accomplished storytelling style, but also because of his authentic insight.
McRae cements his background with great characters such as “Wilkie”, a Frost-like ‘Hired Man’ with a penchant for alcohol who came and went from the ranch without the formality of being ‘hired or fired’ when McRae was a boy. Whether enjoying the tender awkwardness of his relationship with Cheyenne neighbor “Albert Tallbull” or laughing through “Census” taken to extreme and ridiculous hyperbole, McRae is an excellent storyteller. And not all the stories are humorous, not all questions answered as in ‘Trespassing’ which harkens back to much of McRae’s poetry that confesses and examines certain idiosyncrasies of ranch life.
Storytelling is a lost art for many obvious reasons, but these valuable antidotes tell who we are by where we’ve come from. These tales are full of common sense and a once common rural ethic that has been lost to most all of us with progress. And though these stories may be a window to understanding for urban academics and outsiders, a glimpse of a culture past, this collection may be more important for those still living in rural settings as McRae validates a cast of characters from a lifestyle that is truly and uniquely ours. Thank you, Wally.