The Last Cowboy

Publisher: Vintage Canada
In this romantic, humorous and harrowing novel, the acclaimed author of Make Believe Love returns to the epic skies and straight roads of Broken Head, Saskatchewan, and takes us into a very modern Western.

Sam McMahon can’t understand why his banker colleagues in Toronto keep calling him “cowboy,” when he prefers opera to C&W and fine wine to beer. Sam’s wife is in love with his brother Vern, who has followed the family tradition and works their parents’ farm, a mixed cattle and crop operation inherited from his grandfather, Old Sam. When his wife leaves him stranded by the side of a Saskatchewan highway, Sam is rescued by a woman, Ai Lee, in a rented Toyota. Ai is a film location scout who’s searching for the perfect cliff for legendary director James Aspen’s new film, The Last Cowboy.

Thirty years previously, Old Sam dreams of better days in an older West, mending fences, riding horses, raising cattle. To save young Sam, then 10 years old, from what he considers the malaise of the late-20th century, Old Sam drags him off into a blizzard on horseback. His goal is to save a lost cow and her new calf, which may or may not exist. Sam’s parents fear he’ll only manage to kill his grandson. When, only days later, the old cowboy wanders out of doors without his parka in the freezing cold, muttering about a lost boy, he’s rescued by a Native couple out in a “borrowed” car, who run afoul of the police and end up driving into their final sunset. When Ai hears their story from Sam, she thinks she’s found her perfect location.

The Last Cowboy does much more than update the Western; it weaves together stories and generations and unveils, with beauty and compassion, the leap or fall that awaits us all.

So I stretch back in permanent recline and do my best to travel off to a better day, a summer day back fifty years past, a few days after a big rain, so that everything was green except for the cuts in the draws where the runoff had chewed right through the grass. There was a glow to the world back then that has long since been lost. It is painfully elusive, that particular luminescence, but I sit here stubbornly trying to restore the shine of it. I begin with a sky that was as blue as the better skies now, and work my way down to the green, only a breath of a line of white dividing the earth from the heavens. -- from The Last Cowboy

From the Hardcover edition.



Sam McMahon froze, the steaming kettle in his hand poised over his stainless steel designer teapot. He didn’t pour. He was listening for something. Probably only the wind. Yes, the moaning of the wind sweeping across the valley and thrumming his corrugated...
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“I’ve just finished The Last Cowboy.... I was absolutely gripped by long passages, didn’t want to put the book down [and] was as engaged as I’ve ever been.”
—Sharon Butala

“Gowan never wavers…the book simply flows. The Last Cowboy is an engaging book that is at once funny, poignant and a razor-sharp image of that most tender and terrible of entities: the family.”
The Globe and Mail

“It is when writing of southern Saskatchewan that Gowan, a Swift Current native, truly soars. He quite obviously knows and loves the turf, and he writes vividly of the switchbacks and the draws…His writing not only makes you want to visit the area, it convinces you that you have.”
The Globe and Mail (same review)

"An admirable quality in this novel is the way Gowan resists sentiment and simplicity….What The Last Cowboy does very well is restore the rural West’s complexity, which automatically reveals and mocks the cartoons that otherwise stand for truth."
National Post

"There’s much to enjoy in Gowan’s writing and the intricacies of his story telling. His work should be savoured, not hurried."
Star Phoenix

“Gowan’s sparse, unadorned prose speaks much between the lines. His characters are well-wrought, etched as with acid, and true. And The Last Cowboy continues — and ups the ante — in the newest vein of western CanLit.”
The Hamilton Spectator

"The Last Cowboy flows as smoothly as the wide prairie, thanks to Gowan’s easy-going, almost drawl-like writing style."
The Edmonton Journal

"Alberta writer Lee Gowan … puts a contemporary spin on the western novel …”
Winnipeg Free Press

Praise for Make Believe Love:
“Gowan’s command of language, his sense of place, his subject matter all make him a writer worth watching.”
The Gazette (Montreal)

“A comedy that refuses to get cynical or mean. . . . Lee Gowan’s debut is funny and laidback [and] shot through with affection.”
The Vancouver Sun

“[A] wonderfully comic fable about love in the electronic age.”
Toronto Star