Ostrich

Michael A. Thomas, Author
Michael A. Thomas, Author University of Nevada Press $17 (288p) ISBN 978-0-87417-351-2
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Something about the American Southwest has long welcomed improbable plans and characters who seem larger, or weirder, than life. In fiction, this Southwestern-screwball tradition can lead to books as good as Tom Robbins's Even Cowgirls Get the Blues. This slight family comedy cannot stand in that company, but it is amusing nonetheless. Sabine Eckleberry is a Nevada sheep farmer and a habitual grouch: he runs his ranch with only his sharp-tongued youngest daughter, Rosa, to help him. Years ago, Sabine's wife, Magda Zumwalt-Eckleberry, left him to open a poodle-grooming business in Scottsdale; their son, VJ, ran away to pursue get-rich-quick schemes. When Magda and VJ come home to celebrate Sabine's 72nd birthday, VJ unfolds a plan to breed ostriches, and Magda brings along a right-wing retired colonel with a penchant for pornography. Thomas (Crosswinds) spends a quarter of the novel getting mother and son back to the ranch, where they're joined by a host of minor characters, including VJ's and Rosa's sisters, Felice (a fervent Republican) and Celia (who arrives with two loudmouthed kids). Once the family reunion begins, events are only mildly zany. Husbands and wives reconcile. Prodigal sons face up to their responsibilities; shrewish daughters find true love. Even the ostrich plot fizzles out with nothing more than a single hatched egg. Though Thomas's quips and witty asides are less than striking, his humor is insidious, as the reader visualizes the family melee. Digressions convey real information about the habits of ostriches, donkeys and sheep, or about Basques in America. The key players--especially Sabine--are generally sympathetic, and the good-humored scenario, if not hilarious, produces pleasant entertainment. (Sept.)
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