(Forge, $24.95, 284 pages, hardcover; published in June 2003.)
Kim Antieau's Coyote Cowgirl has all the right ingredients for a fun, breezy summerread: a vacationing protagonist, an "on the road" adventure, exotic locales, steamy romance, and lots of great food.
Jeanne is the youngest child of the Les Flambeaux clan, the famously gifted restauranteurs who own the Oui & Sí. The alarmingly thin Jeanne, however, can't cook; she never even eats in front of her family. She thinks of herself as the family screwup. Her siblings tease her by calling her Jeanne d'Arc, because, like the famous heroine, she hears voices.
A crystal skull belonging to her father speaks to Jeanne. It calls itself Crane. It also used to speak to her long-estranged and notoriously insane grandmother. Everyone's worried that Jeanne might be a bit too much like her grandmother.
After the family's annual Day of the Dead celebration, Jeanne carelessly allows a precious family heirloom to be stolen by her roguishly charming cousin Johnny, who's desperately trying to repay his gambling debts.
Jeanne and Crane set off in pursuit of Johnny. On the road, Jeanne fears for her life: the news is filled with alarming reports of a serial kidnapper.
Jeanne's trek through the American Southwest turns into an odyssey of self-discovery, as she uncovers truths about herself and her family that transform her life and her relationships to food, Crane, and her grandmother.
Coyote Cowgirl may ultimately be a bit light and predictable, but its quirky cast of characters is charmingly drawn and there's an infectious sense of fun that permeates the whole book. Crane, especially, is a wickedly incorrigible wisecracker.
There's a political edge to the book as well -- Coyote Cowgirl is an engaged novel that wears its politics of environmental and social responsibility on its sleeve -- and that gives the story some bite.
Claude Lalumière's Fantastic Fiction
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© Claude Lalumière 26 July 2003, 5 October 2003