Fatalism dims shine of Proulx's prose
Sunday, July 25,
Close Range: Wyoming Stories
by Annie Proulx. Scribner. 283 pages. $25.
For those who loved E. Annie
Proulx's Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning "The
Shipping News" (1993) but dutifully plodded through her
mini-epic "Accordian Crimes" (1996), "Close Range: Wyoming
Stories" might win you back. Or it might not.
In the best stories of "Close
Range," Annie Proulx (she has dropped the "E") achieves the
thoughtful intimacy of her finest work. "A Lonely Coast" and
"The Half-Skinned Steer" are two such tales, the former
addressing the painful solitude and random violence in the
lives of waitresses, and the latter dramatizing an aging
ex-rancher's memories during a fatally determined
cross-country drive to his estranged brother's funeral.
Though Proulx draws sensitive
portraits of characters limited by geography and economic
class, the crushing fatalism of these narratives begins to
grate on even the most patient reader. It is one thing to
depict the ways in which lived experience shapes a life, and
another to fall into a despondent determinism, watching
character after character succumb to unconquerable social
forces. A "morbid passion for the ranch" - to borrow the
book's description of Car Scrope, one of "Close Range's" sad
misogynists - all too aptly characterizes this
That said, its expose of how
society limits individual choices places "Close Range" and
"Accordian Crimes" in the excellent company of John Dos
Passos' "USA" trilogy and Theodore Dreiser's "Sister
Carrie." And, as in all of her work, Proulx's language
sparkles with vivid description and a poet's attention to
One can truly see the "cloven oval"
of a horseshoe's print and look up to the "intricate sky"
with its "flocks of small birds like packs of cards thrown
up in the air." Proulx's Wyoming is a beautiful landscape
punctuated by rape, despair and dead dreams.
Nel is an adjunct professor of English at the College of