Annie Proulx 'Close Range'

Annie Proulx’s style of writing interests me because I would like to write about people living in the Scottish countryside who have to struggle in different ways.  I identify with their sense of self-sufficiency and strong attachment to their bit of land.  Annie Proulx writes with humour and originality about the dramas of living in isolation and having strange and quirky behaviour.  The portraits of small communities with their own ways of behaving and dealing with tough circumstances constitute character studies which have a real impact on reading them.  Annie Proulx describes a very hostile environment in Wyoming and yet the people she describes have a depth of character and usually a long series of challenges without a happy ending.  In “The Mud Below” the main character “Diamond” tries to escape domestic strife by making out as a bullrider and lives in poverty and danger as he performs in the ring only to experience excruciating and violent pain after being thrown by a bull.

“Oh man, get up, this’s a mean one,” someone far away called and he was running on all fours, rump in the air, to the metal rails, a clown there, the bull already gone.  The audience suddenly laughed and out of the corner of his eye he saw the other clown mocking his stagger.  He pressed against the rails, back to the audience, dazed, unable to move.  They were waiting for him to get out of the arena.  Beyond the beating rain sirens sounded faint and sad.”

The ending is “Very slowly, as slowly as light comes on a cloudy morning, the euphoric heat flushed through him, or maybe just the memory of it.”

Annie Proulx can write a satisfying narrative with the reader only being assured this is the character’s authentic experience.  It is no happy resolution story but you get a deeper sense of truth this way.

 

In “The Half-Skinned Steer” the childhood myth of a half-skinned steer escaping back to the wild brings the gruesome story to a conclusion when Mero returns to the family ranch at the age of eighty-three to attend his brother’s funeral.  In the dark he loses his way and notices one from the herd inside the fence was keeping pace with him.

“ It tossed its head and in the howling wintry light he saw he’d been wrong again, that the half-skinned steer’s red eye had been watching for him all this time.”

This grim apparition is a far remove from Mero’s city life of smart investments and setting out for the drive in his Cadillac.

“The country poured open on each side, reduced the Cadillac to a finger-snap.  Nothing had changed, not a goddamn thing, the empty pale place and its roaring wind, the distant antelope as tiny as mice, landforms shaped true to the past.  He felt himself slip back, the calm of eighty-three years sheeted off him like water, replaced by a young man’s scalding anger at a fool world and the fools in it.”

There is an eloquent description of impending death.

“It was almost a relief to have reached this point where the celestial fingernails were poised to nip his thread.”

The author’s choice of quotation to preface the stories has that other-world notion.

“Reality’s never been of much use out here.”  -Retired Wyoming rancher.

Annie Proulx’s story-telling grip on a humorous, vivid and original set of Wyoming people is very rewarding reading.

 

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