If you are one of the thousands (or to be truthful millions) who follow her blog or make her recipes (or just enjoy looking at the pictures), Ree Drummond’s The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels—A Love Story will seem like a familiar friend. In fact, much of it was published in sections and segments on her blog, The Pioneer Woman.
Still, if you’ve grown up with books, not blogs, like I did, there’s something nice about having the entire story sandwiched between a front and back cover and formatted in a sequential and linear fashion. Plus, as Dummond notes on her website, the book includes “the complete online serial (with added material) as well as a whole new section, which documents [the] entire first year of [their] marriage”.
As the title suggests, The Pioneer Woman: Black Heels to Tractor Wheels details Drummond’s relationship with her now husband (aka the Marlboro Man—his real name is Ladd Drummond) from their initial meeting at a local bar in Oklahoma to the birth of their first child. The book ends with several of Drummond’s favorite recipes, including ones for the first meal she made for Marlboro Man.
If you aren’t familiar with Drummond, the book may, at first, feel like fiction—particularly the tales of Marlboro Man. Nearly killed his mother driving a car into a ditch— the Marlboro Man got ‘em both out of that bit of trouble. Ex-boyfriend calling in the middle of the night—he could cope with that, too. Plus “he was tall, strong, and mysterious…he was a vision, this Marlboro Man-esque, rugged character…” Drummond herself notes “We had a second date that night, then a third, and then a fourth. And after each date, my new romance novel protagonist called me, just to seal the date with a sweet word.” Throw in a few lines like “And before too long, it was impossible to tell where his arms ended and where my body began” and “We drove straight into the sunset” and it sounds like a book that should have Fabio on the cover.
The road to marriage (and beyond) wasn’t completely smooth, but many of the bumps still seem more romantic comedy than real life. Consider the pre-marital interrogations with Father Johnson, who not only asked questions such as “What are you both going to do, long term, to nurture each other’s creativity?” but also required homework in the form of a collage each had to create based on the other’s life (just to make certain they really knew each other.) Add a facial that turns Drummond into a somewhat flakey bride and a honeymoon that involves an inner ear issue and hamburgers with a “marsupial undertone”, and readers may feel like they have wandered into a slightly clichéd Hollywood romantic comedy. But it’s only cliché in the fiction/Hollywood world; when it’s real life, it’s something else.
In the case of Black Heels to Tractor Wheels, her tellings become a fun, can’t put down kind of read. Drummond’s self-deprecating humor and easy prose make for a guilty pleasure type of story. If you don’t dislike her (as some strangely seem to) because she’s made her blog profitable and perhaps isn’t the average woman she might have been when she started blogging or because she’s not a “real” chef or because she uses cake mixes, or something of that nature, then most likely you’ll find Drummond rather charming and, well, likeable. With lines like “I was a ninny of the highest order” or “I was Lucille Ball. Lucille Ball on steroids and speed and vodka”, she clearly doesn’t take herself too seriously.
But there’s also a realness to her love story that is quite different from romance novels and comedic movies. Perhaps this is expressed most clearly at the end of Part Two, directly after the couple weds:
“In the coming year, real life would come crashing in around us. Within days of our wedding, we would receive unexpected, startling news that would cause us to cut our honeymoon short. Within weeks, we would endure the jarring turmoil of death…divorce…and disappointment. In the first year of our life together, we would be faced with difficult decisions, painful conflict, and drastic changes in plans.”
And by this point, the Marlboro Man romance isn’t quite so perfect, either. Before the wedding, Drummond and her Marlboro Man have their first fight, Drummond survives a “working cattle” initiation (which involved the back end of a steer, a very large thermometer, and a lot of manure)... and learns a little about gift giving in the ranching world:
“Sitting before me, surrounded by scattered bunches of hay, was a bright green John Deere riding lawn mower—a very large, very green, very mechanical, and very diesel-fueled John Deere riding lawn mower. Literally and figuratively, crickets chirped in the background of the night. And for the hundredth time since our engagement, the reality of the future for which I’d signed up flashed in front of me… Would this be how presents on the ranch would always be? Does the world of agriculture have a different chart of wedding anniversary presents? Would the first anniversary be paper… or motor oil? Would the second be cotton or Weed Eater string?”
In the end, the book lives up to its title—it’s a love story. As such, it may be (as many love stories are) a little predictable at times. But it’s also a book that made me smile and sigh and wish for a few more happy endings.