By Ree Drummond.
Recently I was attempting to read Carrie Fisher's "The Best Awful." I gave up on it fairly quickly even though I love Carrie Fisher, mostly because it was weirding me out.. The book is so very obviously a thinly veiled version of Carrie Fisher's own life--the "turns out my husband is gay, I went off my meds and into the hospital" phase--that I couldn't even pretend for a second that this was a fictional story and review it in that manner. I don't know why she didn't just call everyone by their real names and write it in first person--maybe she had to work up to "Wishful Drinking." But it's kind of hard to review a person's real life, other than "Is this an entertaining story?" and "Do I like hanging out with these people?" In the case of the book I am reviewing today, both answers are yes...but I do kind of wonder at times just how neatly it all fits with romance novel tropes.
"Pioneer Woman" is an autobiography done by a popular blogger writing about her life on a ranch with a bunch of kids and a really hot cowboy husband. While ranching and cooking and hordes of children aren't my interests in life, I was told that the love story between her and her husband was adorable. I looked and yes, yes it most certainly was. So when I came across the book recently, I snagged it.
When we begin, Ree is a 20something girl from Oklahoma who's been living in LA with her longtime boyfriend J for years. She's certainly fond of J, but is no longer feeling the love in the same way. When he gets a job elsewhere, she declines to follow him, AND moves back in with her parents in Oklahoma while she tries to figure out what to do with her life instead. J, bizarrely enough, cannot seem to figure out that he's been broken up with--Ree blames herself for not being clear enough, but she seems fairly clear to me, what with moving to another state and all. Eventually Ree decides that she wants to move to Chicago and enjoy the city life there. Because Ree's always been a city sort of girl--felt she was too good for the hometown growing up, likes expensive shoes and sushi and flirting. She's in the shallow fun phase of life. I did wonder how the hell Ree was just kind of piddling around at home with no job--at least, it doesn't sound like she has one even then. Likewise, I wondered how she was moving to Chicago without having lined up a job first either. I'm not sure how loaded her family is, but they probably have to be...somewhat loaded, I guess, for them to be okay with her just vegging for months.
Then one night in a bar, she falls at first sight for a hot cowboy, who she dubs "Marlboro Man." He whammies her. But then he doesn't call, and Ree continues to make plans to move soonish. Months later, he calls--he was seeing someone else at the time and had to break up with her first--and they are madly, obsessively, instantly, perfectly in love despite their differences. And it does indeed seem to be a perfect match. Ree may be rather shallow and immature at this point in time (but not in a bad way, just in a "still growing up" way), but the Marlboro Man just rolls with it and is amused by her city folk ways, like sleeping in past 5 a.m. and wearing heels when she probably shouldn't be. Ree is also a well, clumsy heroine, the likes of which we usually see in movies. She falls down in heels in the country, she accidentally runs over her dog, she falls out of a semi, she wrecks her car in front of MM's mom, she gets WAY too overheated at a wedding... When will the movie rights of this be sold already? The stories are darned funny, but it's almost too good to be true on the romance scale.
There isn't really a villain in the piece. The big dramas boil down to:
- whether or not Ree can bear to move to Chicago after all--guess what, she can't.
- whether or not J will finally figure out they're broken up already--he takes a long time to get the clue, complete with surprise plane flight and last-ditch diamond (see what I mean about it being like a movie?).
- Ree's parents, who seem to have been happily married for years, finally have their relationship fall apart horribly while Ree's still in the house hearing it. This one's pretty devastating to her.
- And finally... can a "city girl" stand to give up sushi and clubbing for life to marry this man? Because it's clearly going to be a choice of Ree giving up her entire life to be a ranch wife and mother, if she can stand it. As you can figure out, despite the wildfires and mountain lions and disgusting things the Marlboro Man has her do to cows, the answer is yes. Heck, she's already weaned herself off sushi and being a vegetarian for love...
It's an oddly old-fashioned story, what with Ree insisting on going home every night rather than sleeping over until after the wedding, Ree not really seeming to have anything occupying her time other than dating as far as I could tell, and her giving up anything to do with her own life to just follow the Marlboro Man's already pre-set ranch life. Except for mentions of car phones and early cell phones, it almost seems like it's out of another time, probably the 1950's. I guess it works since it doesn't sound like she had anything of her own going anyway or any job activity she was interested in (until blogging), so it's not like she's missing out on her own goals. It's mostly about her transition to dealing with a much more grownup life where the stakes are higher--what with the nature and the animals--and where she doesn't have a clue. It's a good thing Marlboro Man doesn't seem to mind that, and finds the city girl antics to be amusing most of the time.
Overall, it's a very blissful twue wuv story, wrapping up schmoopily with a very happy wedding. AND THEN REALITY HITS. Oh dear lordy, does it ever. Their honeymoon ends early due to excessive vomit and financial disaster, Ree's parents' marriage finally ends after holding it together long enough for the wedding, MM has a relative die, Ree of course gets pregnant and is incapacitated by more vomit for months, nature is scary, and getting the hang of ranch life is pretty tricky. But by the end, she's on her way to becoming a real ranch wife and mother.
As a story, it's adorable. It's the most real life romance novel-ish story I may have ever read, except it's missing bad guys, ex-girlfriends, and Big Misunderstanding drama. None of which are missed, really. I'll admit that once Ree settled into married life, I was feeling more weirded out at the old-fashionedness. I'm pretty much the antithesis of her personality-wise and didn't relate to her life as much. But that's my own deal.
I do need to point out that the juicy romance stuff is all online already--the book is based on it-- and the new material is the post-wedding stuff. Which is, well, shorter and more summarizing than the original material. It is somewhat a different style, and you miss the details and build that you got with the pre-wedding stuff. Maybe she lost interest, maybe she just didn't have as much romance to milk what with all of the vomit, maybe "happily ever after" is harder to write while real life is kicking in with a vengeance. Anyway, I can see why some folks had a problem with it compared to the original romance. But even though it's shorter and faster, it at least wraps up the story well enough to get it to a good place to end.