Wild Ride at the Dude Ranch
by Sherry Walraven
Outskirts Press

"In his mind, he was doing what needed to be done, so other children wouldn’t be tortured like his sister and him was."

With a series of interwoven plotlines, tumultuous developments loom like a dark cloud waiting to erupt and unleash mayhem on anyone in its path. Ironically, a group of eight female cousins, all named after a city or state, embark on their vacation with the intent to relax. However, trouble and adventure seem to follow them. Juxtaposed with this group's seemingly carefree lives is the heartwrenching opening of the novel that features a pair of children (twins) being cruelly abused by parents who may as well have been monsters. The male cousins' rocky journey to their chosen vacation spot and abusive husband Sam Simpson's quest to find his pregnant wife, Charmaine, all culminate at the Dude Ranch.

Walraven's narrative runs the gamut of themes, from friendship and togetherness to isolation and freedom, be it from one's ties or the depravity of the human mind. Moreover, the narrative is a distinct depiction of the wide-ranging ripple effects that an individual's actions can have on countless innocent lives as it dives deep into the mind of a psychopath who, in his own right, is a victim of his childhood. Walraven's portrayal of the antagonist as he grapples with acting on his thoughts demonstrates that no one is ever truly black or white in regard to who they are as a person.

The dichotomy of light and darkness certainly brings intrigue to the story. The group of eight arrives at the ranch on cloud nine, assuming the aliases of Bambi, Olivia, Angel, Kiki, Queenie, Trixie, Jade, and Gigi. From barbeques to dances and horse rides, the exuberance of the Dude Ranch experience conveniently conceals the brewing storm within one of the ranch hands. The entertainment takes a ghastly twist when the women find a cabin in the woods and later when a woman is found murdered nearby. What ensues is a classic case of dramatic irony: the reader knows the happy-go-lucky cousins will find themselves in real jeopardy and will have to unify as one if they are going to all make it out of the vacation in one piece.

At its core, the narrative is propelled by consistent dialogue between the central characters, resulting in a fluid style that continuously flows through its various plotlines, all set on a collision course fittingly titled "wild ride." The internal dialogue, particularly from the antagonist, is especially compelling because of how conflicted he becomes when he contemplates taking a pregnant woman's life. With each thought, a glimpse of the childhood atrocities comes to light that transforms a loving brother into a conflicted killer who relives his parents' heinous actions in every individual that becomes his victim. In his warped mind, the villain sincerely believes he is avenging his sister. Above all else, the events at the Dude Ranch remind audiences that life must be lived with vigor despite the notion that danger lurks around every corner. Combining a series of newly founded friendships with a call to action when one of their own is taken, the cousins' adventure is the highlight of the novel. Still, the coinciding parallel events create a thought-provoking experience for readers to ponder the depths of darkness that consumes a killer.

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