When a young man is confronted with the death of his grandfather, he goes about preparing himself to say goodbye. Along the way, we are let in on the very special relationship shared by the boy and the old man, lessons learned by each as they struggled with growing up and growing old.
Into this relationship, we are also introduced to the boys father, who found in the old man a surrogate father and role model for how a man should act. We follow this relationship from the time the old mans daughter brings here young boyfriend home, through crises of careers and health, of relating to a growing son, to dealing with the death of the only true mentor in the mans life.
As a result of the complexities faced by the three men, the novel explores the often lonely world in which men compare them selves against the masculine ideal, a world where fears and doubts are considered signs of weakness, where what a man can do with his muscles is often in conflict with what he can do with his heart.
As we move through the novel, we also meet several other men whose experiences serve to underline the realities of being a man:
Alex is the old mans brother. The two share a stormy relationship that stems from the early influences on their lives of their illiterate father. In time however they eventually settle into an acceptance of each others differences.
Ed is a friend of the old man who saw his own father die as a result of trying to save his son.
Austin suffered the disapproval of his lifestyle and the brutal loss of the only man he ever loved.
Stans relationship with Mike shows the surprising tenderness shared by brothers who otherwise see themselves as tough guys.
The women in the lives of these men are an underlying influence of strength and guidance, providing certain qualities that the men are often incapable of showing or even realizing. The boys grandmother, mother and sister, and the woman who becomes his wife act as foils and friends, lovers and protectors, appeasers as well as provocateurs of the male ego.
Providing further proof to these roles are other wives, mothers and lovers that show the soft side of men, the sides they are often loathe to reveal to their peers.
Set primarily in the beautiful and rugged cottage country of Ontario, Cowboys and Fishermen demonstrates the need men have for one another and the dependancy they share for the women who have touched their lives.
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