Hanawalt believes in the importance of women telling their own stories, where they can be heroes and villains, not victims or merely plot devices to inspire a male protagonist’s journey. “Even in Unforgiven, [it] is basically a Clint Eastwood revenge fantasy [that happens] because these sex workers have been cut up by bad guys,” she explained. “It’s a story about female pain told by men, for men.”
When we learn from whom Doggirl is running and why, her storyline begins to resemble a Clint Eastwood drama, but with a role reversal: After she cuts up a bad guy in self-defense, the consequences chase her throughout the book. Underneath the pithy dialog and dreamy watercolors of a children’s book, Coyote Doggirl has the dark heart of the bleakest Western. Critters are caught and roasted on a spit; a horse breaks a leg and ends up in a desert grave; and the blood of a bad man is spilled across a bed. “I like upbeat stories in general, but I also have a lot of dark images in my head and a lot of violent nightmares,” Hanawalt admitted. “Sometimes I do get those out through my work.”
Luckily, Hanawalt wasn’t raised to shy away from the ugly parts of life. She remembers a time when her father, a molecular biologist, excitedly showed her a video of cancer cells multiplying. “I learned to appreciate the beauty in something, even when it’s sort of hideous on the surface,” she said. Hanawalt’s work often combines a scientist’s curiosity with the playful logic of a stand-up comedian whose observations remind us that ordinary life is often absurd. Why are humans the only animals who drink Vitamin Water, wear guayabera shirts, practice Reiki, and write memoirs?