Narrated by Jake Baker, a 73-year-old who'd been sent to a nursing home by his niece, this novel recounts the adventures of Jake and Lucas Kraft after they leave a nursing home to become cowboys. Lucas is a writer whose pessimistic view of life is the opposite of Jake's. Never able to tell the truth about himself, Lucas has lost both fame and love but not his lust for life.

The two men hitchhike west (with a series of crazy drivers) and eventually find jobs on a Texas ranch. Jake falls in love with Betty, perhaps the foulest-mouthed cook ever invented; Lucas finds Sally Crandall, his ex-wife, a movie star, and the love of his life, who's performing in a cowboy-and-Indians movie not far from the ranch. Jake and Lucas actually do become cowboys (in the movie).


This novel may represent a new kind of bildungsroman, one in which the elderly set out to find themselves before they die. The title comes from something Lucas says: "'There is no dignity in dying in this cattle market,' he said, sitting on his bed and looking more sad than angry. 'We should be able to die where we please, even if we need to lie down under a blanket of stars and stare God in the face while we leave. This place [the nursing home] is fit only for death, and no place fit only for death should exist in this world.'"(20)

Leaving the nursing home with its bad food, unresponsive caregivers--Jake's roommate lies dead more than an hour before someone answers the call bell ("I wasn't sure but that I envied him," says Jake [13])--and depressed patients, both Jake and Lucas try to come to terms with their aging and with the deaths that await them. Yet this is a funny, unsentimental novel. Jake's true honesty, innocence, and simple goodness and Lucas's outrageous outspokenness drive the twisting-and-turning plot.



Place Published

Atlanta, Ga.



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