Well, I finally read this story a week or so ago in the large print edition I found at my local public library. [I remember a time when I would be disappointed that a book was only available to me in large print-- now... I utter a prayer of thanks when I find some sought-after book in the giant font! Ah, growing older is interesting, my friends!]
Really more of a novella than a short story [In large print it was 88 pages long] TAPPAN'S BURRO was a tale crafted by Zane Grey at what was arguably the height of his narrative power-- the late 1920s. Originally published in THE LADIES' HOME JOURNAL, it is the sentimental but highly affecting story of a gigantic prospector Tappan and his donkey Jenet, whom he rescues as a weak runt of a foal at the beginning of the story. Jenet grows to become Tappan's closest companion, and the story is divided between 3 separate tales that are interconnected but span many years.
Even Grey's harshest detractors always seem to admit one thing about him as a writer: that he was an absolute master of painting landscapes with words. Indeed, even in this short novel old Zane describes in vivid detail both a blistering summer trek through Death Valley and a fiercely bitter blizzard winter in the Mogollon Rim. There is plenty of action as well [ZG's other best ability was in describing scenes of pure action] and Tappan and Jenet are just a great couple of characters.
Also, the best short fiction is the kind that that introduces a conflict and pulls the reader straight into it, and this story did that quite well. Tappan, in the second section of the story, puts faithful Jenet in the backseat for a compromising and ultimately ill-fated romance, the complications of which are pretty realistically drawn. I must say, Tappan's unexpected infatuation changes the mood of the story and eventaully ushers in a climax that is about as unforgettable as that of any animal story I can remember.
Bring some Kleenix for this one, pardner!
As a story of the bonding between man and animal I found this tale to be top-notch. Truly, it is nothing short of a love story; one about a man and the beast he has grown to depend on in almost every way. I found it an engaging and surprisingly textured example of western story-telling. Highly recommended.