Cowboy: A Novel

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On a whim, while working on the television stories Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Sara Davidson flies to Elko, Nevada, for a cowboy poetry festival. She has a chance meeting with an attractive, green-eyed cowboy from Arizona who makes bridles out of rawhide. At first she dismisses him as a jerk, an "insolent yokel," but months later, feeling at loose ends, she calls and invites him to visit for a weekend - a weekend that alters the course of both their lives. Having a fling with a cowboy is a common female fantasy, ...
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On a whim, while working on the television stories Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, Sara Davidson flies to Elko, Nevada, for a cowboy poetry festival. She has a chance meeting with an attractive, green-eyed cowboy from Arizona who makes bridles out of rawhide. At first she dismisses him as a jerk, an "insolent yokel," but months later, feeling at loose ends, she calls and invites him to visit for a weekend - a weekend that alters the course of both their lives. Having a fling with a cowboy is a common female fantasy, but for Sara and Zack the sexual fling deepens and intensifies. They try to resist it because they seem completely wrong for each other and don't fit into each other's lives. Sara writes books and television shows, studied at Berkeley and Columbia and lives in a suburb with her two young children. Zack barely finished high school, doesn't read the newspaper and lives in a trailer in the desert. Yet after several weeks apart, they're compelled to see each other again. Sara's children are charmed at first by the visiting cowboy, but when they realize he's going to stay around, they react with anger and vulnerability. Sara's friends and colleagues are skeptical, and she's forced to adjust her own ideas about who's a suitable partner. Sara faces a classic struggle between the mind and the heart, the worldly and the timeless, and between one's loyalty and devotion to children and one's physical needs as a woman. She understands she must find a way to yoke these conflicting needs or be grateful for the romantic interlude and walk ahead on her own.
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
It's often been said that truth is stranger than fiction. Cowboy is a contemporary love story that's the best of both: inspired by the true story of the author's romance with a real Arizona cowboy, interspersed with events from her work on the popular Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman TV show, and blended with enough fictional embellishments to bring the story to life. If the result is a love story that's almost too good to believe -- well, that's the part of the tale that's strange but completely true.
Barbara Lazear Ascher
Every girl needs a cowboy. Especially if she is over forty-seven and thinks her days of passion are fading fast. Sara Davidson's compelling, funny, deeply felt book that carries an important warning: If you don't accept the love that comes your way, if you blink rather than seeing it for what it is, chances are you'll miss the great love of your life. Every girl can't have a cowboy, but she can have this book and she'd better.
Carol Muske Dukes
The premise? That love humbles us in wonderful, unexpected ways, that if we believe in that mysterious wind that blows our lives, like tumbling tumbleweeds, into new shapes, we must ride blind with it. —Washington Post
Chicago Tribune
A compelling, unorthodox account of bow one woman achieved a blend ofcommitment and freedom.
Dan Wakefield
Sara Davidson's Cowboy is a true-grit love story for our time, told with style and honesty by a master prose stylist. Inspiring without sentimental, Cowboy will give you the best ride of the year.
Hendrik Hertzberg
I started reading this marvelous book and was unable to do anything else till I got to the final sentence. Sara Davidson, it's all your fault! —The New Yorker
Linda Gray Sexton
Novel or memoir? Who cares! Sara Davidson has created a love story so intensely intimate and so sexually compelling that every woman who reads it will be tempted to go right out and hunt down her very own cowboy. This is a book that makes you believe again in strange twist and turns of real love. —Anne Sexton
Davidson executes [cowboy] with intelligence, candor and humor .... Her shot is true.
Teresa Jordan
The incredible story of love far outside the comfort zone.
Whitney Otto
Cowboy is a fascinating, intricate, complex love story that cuts across class lines, defying social expectations. Davidson's relationship with Zack is full of complications and negotiations, terrible and wonderful. If we accept that love is a mystery, this mystery holds you until the last page and beyond.
Library Journal
The author of two novels and of Loose Change, a memoir of the 60s that at times reads like a novel, Davidson has produced another hybrid, this one nonfiction but disguised somewhat to protect her two children and others. However Davidson or the publisher define it, the book defies categorization. The story itself is about an erotic love affair/true love between Davidson, then a coproducer and head writer for TV's "Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman," and an uneducated Arizona cowboy skilled at the art of making rawhide bridles. Though the eroticism is here, as is the tension between Davidson and cowboy Zack and her children, ultimately, whether fact or fiction, the effect is flat. This is one story Davidson might have kept to herself. Planned publicity may create some demand. -- Francine Fialkoff
Chicago Tribune
A compelling, unorthodox account of how one woman achieved a blend of commitment and freedom.
Entertainment Weekly
...[C]ompulsively readable.
Laura Jamison
A juicy memoir by a woman who lassos a cowboy lover...Davdson executes [Cowboy] with intelligence, candor and humor.
People Magazine
Lucinda Rosenfeld
...[I]t's not easy being a member of the cultural elite -- as Sara Davidson makes all too clear in her...fictionalized memoir about her love affair with an uneducated cowboy artisan.
The New York Times Book Review
The Boston Herald
Since Cowboy hit the bookstores, The Cowboy Option has been hotly debated....Isn't it time to break the final taboo -- the class taboo?
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780380819331
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/1/2001
  • Format: Mass Market Paperback
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 4.21 (w) x 6.78 (h) x 0.78 (d)

Meet the Author

Sara Davidson captured America's imagination with her seminal account of life in the sixties, Loose Change. She has been called "the liveliest historian of her generation" by Malcolm Cowley. She was one of the first group that developed the craft of literary journalism, drawing on intimate material from her life and shaping it into a narrative that reads like fiction. Her articles have appeared in many magazines, including Mirabella, Harper's, Esquire, The Atlantic and the New York Times Magazine. She is the author of three other books: Real Property, Friends of the Opposite Sex and Rock Hudson: His Story.
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

I've always loved cowboys. The way they look has a great deal to do with it. The sight of the Marlboro man on a billboard can give me a jolt of longing as I drive through traffic on my way to work. I imagine that the way some men respond to the sight of a woman in seamed stockings and garter belt is the way I feel when I see a man in chaps. The rough leather directs the eye up the legs to the place where the leather stops, just below the groin. The tight-fitting jeans, the boots with spurs, even the hat with its rakish, playful shape contribute to an image that I find deeply appealing.

It's an image that suggests ruggedness and wildness, cockiness, a sense of fun, and an intimate power over animals. Until the summer of 1993, however, I did not associate this image with a fine-tuned intelligence. I did not expect a cowboy to be articulate and well-read, I expected him to possess a crude, right-wing dumbness, so that for a woman with a certain education, a romance with a cowboy would be a misalliance.

I was intrigued, then, when I heard about cowboy poets. I was writing and producing a Western TV series, Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman, when one of the wranglers on the set showed me a poster for a cowboy poetry and music festival in Elko, Nevada.

The wrangler, Earl McCoy, had puffy jowls and a stomach that pooched out over his belt, but the cowboys on the poster were lean, muscular, perched on a fence rail with their Stetsons tipped down over their foreheads.

"These men write poetry?"

"Hell, yes," Earl said. "Good poetry."

"Where is Elko, Nevada?"

"About four hours east of Reno." That was four hours east ofnot much.

He gave me tapes of them singing and reciting their poems, and after listening to them, I knew I had to go. I talked my friend Jeanne Davis, a colleague on the show, into coming with me, and arranged to write an article about the festival so that if it proved a disaster, I wouldn't be wasting a weekend. The other producers on the show joked that I was going to Elko "to get laid by cowboys," and, of course, there was a seed of truth in this. I had an instinct something might happen in Elko but I did not put much stock in that instinct; I didn't pack any form of birth control.

Two weeks later, I stood in my closet trying to decide what to wear. Jeans, obviously, but I had Calvin Klein jeans, I would look like a city slicker but that was unavoidable. I washed my hair and let it dry, fluffing it with my fingers. My hair was curly and when I was younger I'd spent painful ho'urs trying to tame it, blow it dry, straighten it with an iron, or wind it on giant rollers with Dippity-Do, but now I left it natural.

Everything in my grooming routine was honed for efficiency and speed. I wore no makeup. I smoothed on skin moisturizer with sunblock, pulled on the jeans and a teal-colored shirt from Banana Republic and Italian shoe-boots and I was ready to walk out the door.

I drove my daughter, Sophie, who was eleven, and my son, Gabriel, ten, to their dad's house, opening the back of the station wagon to let Sophie out with her cat, Butterball. She was wearing a brown tank top, brown corduroy jeans, and brown nail polish with gold polka dots.

"Why can't I come with you?" she said.

"You know why. It's your Weekend with Dad."

"If it's all right with him, can I come?"

I hugged her. "I'll be back Sunday night. I'll bring you a present."

Gabriel was dragging his skateboard out of the car, along with a bagful of CDs. "Can I have money instead of a present?"


"I'll take a present then." He leaned forward and kissed my cheek. "Love you, Mom."

"I love you too." I watched them walk to the door and waited for it to open. "Don't forget your reading!"

When I pulled up to Jeanne's house, she was waiting on the sidewalk with two large tote bags. She'd once been a flight attendant and I knew that in those tote bags was everything we could possibly need: a travel alarm clock, three boxes of Band-Aids in three different sizes, containers of healthy Sun Chips, regular and barbecue flavor, herbal tea bags, and an electric coil to heat water for the tea.

"Why are we doing this?" I said.

"It'll be a hoot," she said, buckling her seat belt.

"We have no idea what we're going to find."

She switched on the radio to KZLA, the country-music station, to set the mood. "Earl goes every year."

"Earl's strange."

Heads turned as we walked through the airport in Nevada to pick up our rental car. Jeanne was five feet ten, with that long, dazzling, bright blonde hair you find on women in Sweden, and I was equally tall with dark hair and neither of us wore a bra. We did not look as if we came from Elko.

We drove across town, passing the Red Lion Motel, which had two giant plastic steers in front, the Commercial Hotel, which had a white king polar bear rearing up over the door, numerous feed stores, and Brenda's Wedding Chapel, where you could get married with no blood test and no waiting.

When we arrived at the Elko Fairgrounds, however, we saw that the bleachers we'd expected to be filled with cowboys were packed instead with families-tourists wearing Bermuda shorts and carrying Big Gulp drinks. On the stage, a group of geriatric cowboys were singing "Tumbling Tumbleweed," and one broke....

Cowboy. Copyright © by Sara Davidson. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Reading Group Guide

What was happening? How could I be so driven, obsessed, besotted by sex? I was almost fifty, starting on the path toward what the literary lionesses -- Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir, Colette -- extolled as the third stage of a woman's life, 'Triumphantly post-sexual.'... Not me. I was not going gentle down that path and I was flummoxed.

Plot Summary
Sara and Zack are wrong for each other in every way. A divorced mother of two, Sara is an author and television producer. Zack is a cowboy who barely finished high school and lives in a trailer in the Arizona desert. His greatest ambition is to make the best rawhide bridles in the West. But when a weekend fling turns into something more, it challenges every aspect of Sara's being: her relationship with her kids, work, social life, and most importantly, her understanding of the link between body and soul.

How can Sara reconcile the differences, both social and economic, between herself and Zack in order to embrace the love that becomes undeniable? Devoted to his art, Zack often finds himself strapped for cash, leaving Sara in the uncomfortable position of supporting him. Needless to say, this raises more than a few eyebrows among her family and friends. After all, what does it look like to the world that she is paying for a man 10 years her junior, a man with magic hands and an open soul that warm her like no other. More importantly, how can she explain this to herself?

In Cowboy, bestselling author Sara Davidson takes an unflinchingly honest look at the very real issues that women must face today as they search for love: the sacrifices, the risks, and the criticism they must bearfor dating men who are not society's idea of Mr. Right.

Questions for Discussion

  • Have you ever met someone at a party, a bar, or a meeting, felt a spark of interest and turned away? Why did you walk away? Did you regret it?
  • What made Sara receptive to Zack? If they'd met when they were younger, what might have happened?
  • Why do you think the children reacted so violently to Zack's continued presence?
  • What does Cowboy suggest about contemporary parenting?
  • Do you think it's possible to have great sex without love? Why is the physical relationship in Cowboy so important?
  • How did Sara expand and challenge Zack's views?
  • What did Zack offer Sara that she'd never experienced?
  • Whose needs come first: your children's? Your partner's? Your own? Does Sara rearrange her priorities through the course of the story?
  • What aspect of this relationship seems to represent the greatest hurdle: Money? Cultural difference? Class barriers? Conflict with the children? Which would you find most difficult to overcome?
  • How do the events in Sara's life affect her writing on the TV show? Does art imitate life or is life imitating art?
  • What do you see as the prospects for this relationship in the future?
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