Fat Books & Thin Women

Story Sunday: Jesmyn Ward’s “Cattle Haul”

Story Sundays is a weekly feature at Fat Books & Thin Women. Always short stories, always ones available online for free.

It’s easier driving through the country, especially when you doing a cattle haul. Two lanes on one side and two lanes on the other. Switch lanes and pass. At night, like now, the signs sharp and clear. The trees like waves at the side of the road, all black and blue, coming in and going back out like a tide. Ain’t no lights to distract me, to crowd up around me. Just taillights, red lights, like ants, leading me in a line westward.

Jesmyn Ward’s “Cattle Haul” is one of those stories that punches you in the gut*, making its point swiftly and exactly. Just under the surface of Ward’s story, which follows a long-haul trucker as he drives a load of cattle across Texas, is a sort of mingled desperation and despair: the way the narrator fell into his profession and aspires to get out, though his red-neck boss knows he will continue taking every job offered; his relationship with his alcoholic father, who slips him dimebags of crystal when he leaves for the road; his relationship with Tanisha, presumably his girlfriend but whom he hasn’t seen for a month; and, the layer through which these other anxieties find their expression, his fear that the cattle he is hauling are dying and that he won’t receive full payment for the delivery.

This is, simply, such a good story that I’m not sure what to say about it. It’s one I’ll be rereading in a few days; it’s also sold me on Ward’s novels, which I’ll be checking out soon. (As in later today.) Her Salvage the Bones won the 2011 National Book Award. If you’re debating reading that novel, this story should convince you (as it has convinced me) that you should Drop Everything (including all other books you’re currently reading) And Read.

* I have to steal the terminology of Ben from Dead End Follies here. Can’t help it.

Read “Cattle Haul” online


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1 Comment

I love your description of this story – swift, exacting, with an undercurrent of despair – right up my alley. Will definitely check out the story, and look forward to hearing your thoughts on Salvage the Bones, have heard so many good things!

Comment by Jennifer

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