Author: Sequoyah Branham
Mood: If you’re aching for a short n’ sweet read about the realities of modern ranching life that’s for cowgirls AND by a cowgirl.
I forgot how great it can feel to nestle into a character-driven story until I read In the Company of Cows.
And I actually finished a different character-driven book last week. It was recommended on Amazon, and lauded by NUMEROUS big-name publications. But that book tried way too hard to do too much and ended up turning me off. For all its dazzle it didn’t successfully build a story, and so I didn’t care about the characters at its core – which is literally the point of this style of fiction.
In the Company of Cows is the total opposite.
This shy little novella isn’t here to do anything except tell a really good story. Author Branham set out to build her book around a feeling and a connection instead of a crazy-complicated plot, and it works. It left me refreshed and hopeful, and accutely aware of how much EXTRA there is in so many books and movies.
This story has a simple purpose and packs a huge emotional punch. Especially if you love cows. And if you don’t love cows, get the hell off my porch.
In the Company of Cows opens with a calving crisis that instantly pulls you into the narrative. Nora is a young woman alone on a small West Texas ranch, riding out to check on a group of pregnant cows. She finds one on the ground, having a difficult birth, and has to leap into action.
Although the voice is straightforward and doesn’t waste words, the entire scene from start to finish is thick with an accent you can hear, descriptions that you can see and smell, and an obvious intimate knowledge of livestock. I swear, I was holding my breath while reading, it got me right in the feels. I even re-read that scene, just to see if it was a fluke, but no – each time, my breath catches and my eyes well up. It was just like my late father-in-law’s experiences with round-the-clock checks and tough births, and the miracles and losses he dealt with every year.
You soon learn that Nora prefers the company of animals to people, is painfully shy and awkward, and has a big problem on her hands. The region has been in a drought, and ranchers are selling off their land – including the ranch where she works.
Nora can’t imagine being cooped up at a desk job, so she has to push her social anxiety to its limits and reach out to a relative she barely knows in hopes of finding land to lease. Otherwise, her boss’s cows are moving on and she’ll have to move out.
If you think you know how it’s going to go, you’re wrong. The ending is yet another small, realistic surprise in a series of authentic, down-home experiences.
What Sequoyah Branham has done with her debut novella is tell an incredibly human story, in such a subdued and natural way that I read the whole thing in one sitting.
That’s a huge deal, because I have ADHD and I also read it on my computer, at the kitchen table. I had tons of potential distractions around me, but I was legitimately rooted in one place by the story.
Now to be fair, this tale is 100% up my alley. It’s about cows, and horses, and being riddled with anxiety. Check, check, and check. If ever there was a story worthy of my hyperfocus and niche in which I belong, it’s one about an anxious cowgirl.
Nora is just a few years out of high school, while I’m old enough to be her mom (oh god, how let’s not go there), but I still found the character relatable and easy reading. Her nervous energy and determination propel you forward, so that before you notice it you’re 60 pages in.
Every now and then there was a small transition hiccup or repetition that gave me pause, but overall it’s smooth writing and just so pure and honest that I felt like I knew these characters. They could be my family, my neighbours, or my friends.
The author’s keen, deep-rooted understanding of animals and her love of this world really come through in the vivid descriptions and nomenclature.
On that note, if you’re not a rancher you may struggle a bit. In the Company of Cows isn’t dumbing things down in an effort to reach a broader audience – it’s definitely written in the language of horse girls and cowboys. As someone who, as mentioned, has spent most of her life around horses and a good bit of it around cows, I was stoked that it was so realistic and accurate. But if you’re more of a city-dwelling Western fan without livestock experience, you may have to pause and Google things.
The glossary idea is fantastic, make it longer! And alphabetized. I actually saw the glossary before I started reading, so throughout the book I was going, “Mmm, yes, that one should go in there, too.”
In closing, here’s some beautiful insight into the book, from the author herself.
“In the Company of Cows is influenced by the relationship I had with my own uncle. He believed in me in a way that made me feel safe enough to jump off into something knowing it was going to come out muddy,” said Branham. “That has rippled into every area of my life even after he passed away and wasn’t there to speak into my life.
“I wanted to write a story that captured the feeling of being believed in and challenged in the way that I’d felt from my uncle. When I decided now was the time to publish it, [it was] to honour the things he helped me grow through and the legacy of his life.”