Rick Steber is a local literary hero, the author of more than 30 books, many of them set in Central Oregon. But it still took more than 100 pages for me to start to care about the main character in his new novel, Forty Candles on a Cowboy Cake. The novel focuses on a character with the awkward handle of Waddy Wilder, a buckaroo on a ranch outside Sisters. It didn't help that Waddy is a malcontent, unhappy with the scourge of developers, but equally irritated by environmentalists working on behalf of "an army dressed according to L.L. Bean, Cabela and Eddie Bauer."
It's tough to sympathize with a character that enjoys a good "poke" and is perpetually complaining about gals, city slickers, and anything else that contradicts a fairyland conception of the West. It's much easier to like Waddy and to enjoy Steber's prose when he's describing the sunrise in the badlands or a sunset over a rodeo. Steber is most eloquent in the passages that focus on the landscape.
Despite Steber's rampant similes, clichés and inconsistent cowboy-jargon, the novel is hardly without merit. Anyone who appreciates the heart of Central Oregon, anyone who's been out east and seen the pronghorn and smelled the sage, and anyone who's walked softly through an uninhabited forest can relate to the unspoiled Western purity for which Waddy yearns. - Annalee Hoagland
Forty Candles on a Cowboy Cake By Rick Steber, Bonanza Publishing
Steber reads from and signs his novel on Friday, Feb. 22
at Paulina Springs Book Store in Redmond, 422 6th St.