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Love is at the center of Cowboy, a novel set in the turbulent 1960s. Love of family, friends, country, love of exploring your personal freedoms, and of course, the love you can experience when you’re young that hurts so bad you can taste it.
Jim Davis is a Texan, born and bred, who knows early on he must sample life away from the insular farm life of his small home town. Life at home is complicated by the turbulent relationship with a highly religious hard-driven father and a younger, football-star brother. Love of country and love of God are never far from the life of his family, but neither is Jim’s love of girls and sex, which carries a level of complexity all its own.
Jim’s plans for his own future become even more problematic when his father insists that he join the military. When he enlists in the Army, Jim becomes an officer, and, thanks in part to his completion of a dangerous mission—and his girlfriend, the daughter of a general—a successful life in the military seems all but assured.
Except he’s not biting. What else does the world offer? Jim leaves the military, winds up as a student at an eastern university, and discovers for the first time the drugs, sex, anti-war sentiments and other new feelings that became everyday experiences to others of his generation. All that becomes secondary to his relationship with Trish, the girl he falls in love with, who provides him with even greater complexities and harder choices that he could have ever foreseen. Can he allow her emotional roller coaster to control his life? Then again, can he truly live without her?
While their relationship is the centerpiece of Cowboy, the novel also provides a sketchbook of the times as seen by a young man who doesn’t necessarily buy into the social revolution in the glowing terms as do many of his contemporaries. Setting aside all that, Jim’s willingness to wait out the twists and turns of Trish’s life will ring true for anyone of any generation who has entered the country of love and discovered there are no paved roads and no roadmap.
To 21st Century readers, this is a historical novel. It takes place more than a half-century ago when so many of the social mores were first challenged by millions of young people across the world. How people talk to each other sometimes feels stagy. But it still rings true, both to the times and to the emotional makeup of the many characters who appear throughout the novel.
While Cowboy has the shape and feel of a memoir, it’s a worthwhile read for anyone who wants to remember the ‘60s or has a curiosity about that fabled era that their parents and/or grandparents lived through. More important, however, is the love story of Jim and Trish. The dynamics of their fragile love ring true for anyone of any age.
Cowboy by Robert Holt won CIBA 2018 Somerset First in Category in the SOMERSET Awards for literature.