Western Taxidermy ~ Reviewed by Pearl LukeBook Reviews Wednesday, August 8th, 2012
Western Taxidermy by Barb Howard
NeWest Press, 2012
July 2012, $22.95
Reviewed by Pearl Luke
Western Taxidermy is an undeniably funny book—laugh out loud funny—as a result of keen observations, honesty, and dry humour on the part of serious characters. Immersed in the story world, readers may feel, as I did, that they’re privy to the sotto voce asides of a wickedly funny friend.
I’m fortunate to have several friends who make me laugh, intellectuals, business people and family members. Their primary purpose in life is not to be funny, but startling, wry observations, usually missed by others, fall spontaneously from their mouths and always ring true. Through their unique perspectives, which often join together polar opposites, they can make another facet of almost anything visible and funny.
This is the gift Barb Howard gives readers in Western Taxidermy. The stories are substantial—about adultery, abuse, grief, loneliness, and acceptance. Yet juxtaposed within them are images and positions that make truths and absurdities clear and easy to spot.
In “Big Fork Playground” the protagonist doesn’t mind that her partner plans a mountain trek without her. “After all, she knows that Craig, besides being a legendary outdoorsman, is a bit of an asshole.” But when they spend one night camping in a full service campground, Craig disdains their “car-camping.” He doesn’t need a fire—he has his ultramodern compact camp stove. He believes that “campfires are for Girl Guides.”
Meanwhile, the campground caretaker recognizes him as a “backcountry prick.” He offers an axe to the protagonist because she “Can’t split wood with lover boy’s fruit leather.” Through these two opposing characters, readers may observe that while each character feels superior to the other, their shared disdain puts them on the same level. And only the protagonist, caught up in neither position, finds the enjoyment they all claim to seek.
Sometimes the stories also turn sad and show opportunities lost, as in “Still Making Time,” when two characters maintain the beauty and innocence of an early romance by cutting loose from it. Here, too, we see opposites brought together. While it may be sad that the distant couple only imagine what might have happened between them (when it would be so easy to change that), readers cannot miss that even after all these years apart, they, more than anyone else, continue to “make time” for each other.
These insightful stories demonstrate personality and wisdom as they find humour in serious topics and events. Always the stories are interesting and populated with characters so authentic it is easy to imagine them as our best friends and acquaintances.
Other reviews by Pearl Luke
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