narfna’s #CBR4 Review #33: The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, A Love Story by Ree Drummond
I can’t tell you how many bad decisions I’ve made while shopping at Target. Most of these bad decisions involve buying too much stuff that I don’t actually need, but on rare occasions, I find that I’ve actually bought the wrong thing. Such is the case with Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, uber-blogger Ree Drummond’s non-fiction debut.*
*The cookbook doesn’t count.
I don’t read The Pioneer Woman, but an old roommate once confessed that she had been riveted by PW’s serialized love story to her Marlboro Man, which was originally published over a period of several years on her website. I was intrigued when my roommate outlined the rough story for me: city girl to the extreme falls for big ranch cowboy, changes her entire life, becomes famous blogger, etc. I like a good love story as much as anyone, but love stories that happen to be true as well? Can’t resist them. So I was standing in Target and I needed a book to pass the time, and it came down to a choice between this one and Maggie Stiefvater’s The Scorpio Races. I chose this one; I chose wrong. I am incredibly disappointed in this book, but in retrospect, I guess I should have seen this coming.
I never read this story as it was originally published on her website so I can’t judge its merits as a series of blog posts with much accuracy, but I can say that as a non-fiction novel (which I guess is what she’s calling it, but that pisses me off because it puts it in the same category with In Cold Blood, which is one of my favorite books), the story simply doesn’t work. And it’s not just for one or two reasons — there are several things wrong with the way her “narrative” is presented.
Let’s start with structure. PW breaks up the story into three sections, covering her meeting, courtship, and first year of marriage to Marlboro Man respectively. This is really the only structure the book gets as the story is presented from back to front in chronological order with no attempt to rearrange anything or leave anything out. There are several problems with the way this works out, the first of which is that this story has no natural narrative force. Stories are meant to have a beginning, middle, and end, and if we’re going to get technical with it, an introduction, an escalation of conflict(s), a climax, and a resolution. Except for maybe the first and last parts, Black Heels has none of those things. We get the story with no attempt (or weak attempt) on PW’s part to restructure it into a form that would convey suspense. At no point while reading did I not believe PW would marry Marlboro Man. At no point while reading could I identify much of a thematic structure past ME ME ME and Marlboro Man makes my loins feel warm. They get together at the beginning, they stay together throughout, and they’re still together in the end. PW does throw in the occasional “conflict,” like her parents’ failing marriage, her penchant for extreme sweating, and their disastrous honeymoon food poisoning, but none of those conflicts are over-arching, and they all feel inserted into the story and played up.
I am thinking of the story like a novel at this point, but even if we judge it based on the criteria for non-fiction memoirs instead, it still wouldn’t work. Good memoirs have depth and detail, and while maybe you could argue that Black Heels has the detail, you can’t tell me that most of the details aren’t irrelevant, and you certainly can’t convince me that it has the depth. PW makes no effort, again, to restructure the way she’s telling the story in order to fit the genre. To put it simply, this is a blog copied and pasted into book form, to the story’s detriment.
I hinted at the other major complaint I have about the book above: PW’s writing style is extremely self-centered. I don’t necessarily mean that in the traditional sense of the phrase, although I won’t discourage you from making that interpretation — I mean “self-centered” in it’s most literal connotation. It’s natural for a first person narrator — especially a first person narrator in a memoir — to filter events through that perspective and reflect the events of the story in relation to how it’s going to affect them personally. But this is all PW does. Every single thing that happens is all about HER HER HER. Even the fallout from her parents’ divorce is never mentioned in any other context than how broken up it’s making her feel. And Marlboro Man? I know how PW feels about him, but that’s about it. I did not come away with a picture of Marlboro Man as a three-dimensional character (or “actual person,” if you’d rather ). He comes across as PW’s love object, a perfect specimen of rugged masculinity, sensitive and caring and open, and without a single flaw. She never once steps away from her own limited view of things. I’m not sure if that’s a writing style thing, or a personal issue that she has, but either way, it turned me the hell off after about 100 pages (that’s when the giddiness from the real world love story started to wear off).
I don’t know PW in real life, and I’m not one of those crazed people who go around hating on celebrity bloggers for whatever reason, so I’m not going to say that PW is a bad person, or a selfish person, in real life. What I will say is that she comes off that way in her book, and that’s enough to make it a failure as far as I’m concerned. Don’t bother with this one, folks. Don’t be like me. Read The Scorpio Races instead.