'Never Love a Cowboy': Romance Fiction and Fantasy Families

Publication year

This essay looks at the recolonization of one particular hard-boiled genre - the Western - by women writers of romance fiction. It asks what is at stake - what is being managed, expressed or denied - in definitions of the real and the fantastic in such novels, focusing on Ann Major's The Fairy Tale Girl (1987), Lindsay McKenna's Heart of the Eagle (1986), and Robin Morgan's The Cowboy and His Lady (1984). (224)


In a reading that supplements Radway's, I want to argue that in the 'Western Lovers' novels there is a privileging of the infantile but also a subliminal fear and loathing of motherhood. In The Fairy Tale Girl we discover very early in the novel that Amber's mother felt betrayed by motherhood, which meant a loss of opportunity [...]. Amber's own path toward a sexual relationship is marked by a fear of replicating the fate of her mother. (227)


In The Cowboy and His Lady and other novels like it, the emphasis lies on commitment, on expressing desire but also on re-making the American family. But this dual necessity itself precipitates a series of problems. There is a superficial merging of genders, responsibilities and behaviours, and yet naturalized divisions are also maintained: women romance writers have both subverted and affirmed the traditional Western. (232)