Aaron Tucker’s Soldiers, Hunters, Not Cowboys is pitched as “‘Cat Person’ meets Station Eleven.” That grabbed my interest, and is surprisingly accurate. The novel examines toxic masculinity through the lens of popular culture, specifically the 1956 John Wayne film The Searchers. Smart, visceral, and haunting, this book will brand itself on both your heart and your brain.
Emily Schultz wrote of the book:
“In Soldiers, Hunters, Not Cowboys, Aaron Tucker refuses the easy projections of masculinity from film history. Instead he gallops into the screen to sift out how drama collaborates with the bloodiest of truths. That this novel shifts from dialogical treatise into a thriller proves that Tucker is well on his way to stealing the weird fiction mantle away from Don DeLillo.”
In making this playlist, I channeled the unnamed protagonist of Soldiers, Hunters, Not Cowboys, blending it with my own musical tastes and background growing up in the Okanagan Valley of British Columbia (Canada). The results are definitely skewed towards white men, but that is the worldview of the protagonist, a white masculinity that lives constantly with anger. If there is tenderness and sensitivity in such a figure, it is reflected by Melanie, an ex-girlfriend and the person who openly challenges him in the first half of the novel. Her songs on this playlist have a defiance and intelligence that hopefully intrudes on the rest of the collected here. The back-and-forth is similar to the first half of the novel, where the John Ford-directed film The Searchers structures a conversation that steadily escalates towards threat in the late night hours. The second half of the novel is apocalyptic, swallowing Toronto, and the songs here could be playing in the protagonist’s headphones as he tries to traverse the city towards Melanie in a hero’s quest-turned-Revelation.
“Kate McCannon” by Colter Wall
I wanted to start this playlist with a song that paralleled the menace of the book and male violence of the novel. Wall’s take on the country murder ballad is as mean as they come.
“Lonesome, On’ry and Mean” by Waylon Jennings
Similarly, I thought this Outlaw Country classic conjures the man at the bar that is not to be messed with, a few beers in, edgy. Too, I think this how the protagonist of the novel sees himself, as a dangerous man.
“I Break Horses” by Smog
When I think about the self-myth making that the protagonist makes for himself in this book, there is the figure of the cowboy, even though he himself has never rode a horse. He considers himself knowledgable in the area nonetheless, a person capable of taming horses by exertion of will.
“Shake the Frost” by Tyler Childers
At the same time, I think the protagonist also sees himself as sensitive and the type of a man a woman would love. This is the other side of the protagonist, one that loves and sees that love as epic and romantic, regardless of whether that is true or not.
“Speed Trap Town” by Jason Isbell
That duality, sensitive and violent, comes in part from where the protagonist grew up, a small town in British Columbia, Canada, a town laced with the sadness of any way station, captured perfectly in this song.
“The Bird Hunters”: by Turnpike Troubadours
The logic behind choosing this song is similar to “Speed Trap Town,” a song about the relationships that criss-cross across decades in an intimate rural place. Plus, I wrote a lot of this book listening to this song and appreciate that the lead singer, Evan Felker, said he modelled the song after Larry McMurtry, a favourite author of mine.
“Geraldine” by Jack Ingram, Miranda Lambert, and Jon Randall
The novel hinges on Melanie, and her strength and power, especially in the first half, and how the unnamed protagonist reacts to her rejection, in the past and during the book. When I hear this song, I think of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” but also Melanie and her forcefulness.
“Fancy” by Reba McEntire
One of my mother’s favourite singers, I grew up listing to a lot of Reba. I thought this cover of the Bobbie Gentry song meshed well with “Kate McCannon” in its reversal of that song, a woman taking control of her sexuality and making a life for herself. The darkness of the song fits well with Melanie, especially in reaction to the men she suffered when she was younger.
“Rated X” by Neko Case
A terrific cover of Loretta Lynn’s amazing song, I picked up this CD when I was really taking learning to write seriously, nearly 20 years ago now. Again, I see this an an anthem for Melanie, a rebuke of the type of men in her life, the protagonist chief among them.
“Time of the Preacher” by Willie Nelson
I’ve thought of this novel as a reckoning, fire and brimstone, especially in the second half as the protagonist makes his way across Toronto as it unravels. Here is the preacher of that journey, screaming like a panther.
“Over Yonder” by Charles Wesley Godwin
Without spoiling the end of the book, I think this last song is a version of the final shot in The Searchers, maybe kinder and more lyric than the protagonist deserves, but is in parallel with the film that structures the first half of the book, the dark door closing that this novel works towards.
Aaron Tucker is the author of three books of poems as well as the novel Y: Oppenheimer, Horseman of Los Alamos (Coach House Books) which was translated by Rachel Martinez into French as Oppenheimer (La Peuplade) in the summer of 2020. He is currently a PhD candidate in the Cinema and Media Studies Department at York University where he is an Elia Scholar, a VISTA Doctoral Scholar and a 2020 Joseph-Armand Bombardier Doctoral Fellow.