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Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2by Annie Proulx
Synopses & Reviews
The stories in Annie Proulx's new collection are peopled by characters who struggle with circumstances beyond their control in a kind of rural noir half-light. Trouble comes at them from unexpected angles, and they will themselves through it, hardheaded and resourceful. Bound by the land and by custom, they inhabit worlds that are often isolated, dangerous, and in Proulx's bold prose, stunningly vivid.
In "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?" rancher Gilbert Wolfscale, alienated from his sons, bewildered by his criminal ex-wife, gets shoved down his throat the fact that the old-style ranch life has gone. Several stories concern the eccentric denizens of Elk Tooth, a tiny hamlet where life revolves around three bars. Elk Toothers enter beard-growing contests, scrape together a living hauling hay, catch poachers in unorthodox ways. "Man Crawling out of Trees" is about urban newcomers from the east and their discovery, too late, that one of them has violated the deepest ethics of the place. Above all, these stories are about the compelling lives of rapidly disappearing rural Americans.
Through Proulx's knowledge of the history of Wyoming and the west, her interest in landscape and place, and her sympathy for the sheer will it takes to survive, we see the seared heart of the tough people who live in the emptiest state. Proulx, winner of the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and many other prizes, has written a collection of spectacularly satisfying stories.
"The beautiful and harsh terrain of Wyoming and the tough and often eccentric people who make their lives there are again on display in this collection of stories (a sequel to the much-lauded Close Range: Wyoming Stories). In 'What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?' Gilbert Wolfscale struggles with drought and debt to hold on to the ranch that has been passed down in his family for generations, driving off his wife and two sons, who have no interest in continuing the legacy. Many old-time ranch owners in this territory are women, and they face similar struggles: in 'The Trickle Down Effect,' Fiesta Punch hires local ne'er-do-well Deb Sipple for a long-distance hay haul, with disastrous results. Proulx does leaven her tales of hardship and woe with a dry humor, and she doesn't forget to tackle the misguided romance sought by newcomers to the land, as in 'Man Crawling Out of Trees,' in which a retired couple from the Northeast find that the quiet truce of their marriage can't survive encounters with the resentful locals. While none of the stories in this collection approaches the sweep and wholeness of 'Brokeback Mountain' (the standout story from Close Range, and soon to be a major film), and other pieces are little more than whimsical sketches (sometimes with a touch of the magical), they paint a rich, colorful picture of local life. Agent, Liz Darhansoff. (Nov. 30) Forecast: Though this doesn't pack the same punch as the first collection and a few fans may drift away, Proulx should pick up new readers if the Brokeback Mountain movie does well. " Publishers Weekly (Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"Comparisons to Mark Twain are inevitable, but Proulx's wiry sentences have more of the snap and crackle of vintage Ambrose Bierce....One of our best writers gives us her best book." Kirkus Reviews
"It may be that her odd, vivid language and her idiosyncratic plotting are entertaining enough to distract readers from the bleak subtext....Proulx's vision, like the Wyoming countryside she so meticulously describes, is unyielding." Booklist
"This poignant and often humorous collection is packed with well-drawn characters that linger in the mind and heart. As expected, the Wyoming landscape is the enduring character in each story....Highly recommended." Library Journal
"Proulx's readers should be warned that this new roundup of Wyoming yarns is not another Close Range, nor, apparently, was it meant to be....The comedy in Bad Dirt is weightless, like tumbleweeds blowing through deserted streets." Terrence Rafferty, The New York Times Book Review
"Bad Dirt can be as funny as hell in places, but it's not a happy book. It's a true one. A happy book of stories about the American West, something John Wayne could be proud of, would be an outright lie." San Francisco Chronicle
"Proulx's sense of humor is much in evidence....The longer [stories] are more ambitious...while the shorter are light, often whimsical, sometimes even fantastic....
"[I]t's hard to imagine anyone dipping into Bad Dirt and not coming out of it pleasurably dusted up....As a whole...Bad Dirt hangs together beautifully." Seattle Times
"Laced with sardonic humor and simmering rage...these are sharp vignettes of home on the modern-day range, where the deer and antelope still play, but so, increasingly, do the methane gas extractors and mini-mansion developers." Hartford Courant
"Proulx's stories are a blend of harsh reality and downright comic storytelling....Winter is approaching....Stay inside. Pick up Bad Dirt and spend some time in Wyoming." Providence Journal
"The odd is in the details, the complete extent of humor, hardship and heartache between the lines, while the finely honed characterizations and exploratory subtleties fully and only emerge page by page." San Diego Union-Tribune
"What's initially most striking about Bad Dirt is the lighter touch. The stories in Close Range are as hard and tough as cracks in the ground; some of the best ones in Bad Dirt sound more like eggs cracking in a skillet." The Oregonian (Portland, OR)
"The characters and situations Proulx has dreamed up...work marvelously as fiction....It's clear she loves and knows this land, as she loves and knows its people, and her descriptions of Western landscape...are, as ever, impeccable." Rocky Mountain News
"Bad Dirt is not the equal of Close Range. It is only rarely disturbing and lacks the earlier book's indelible images....Yet the best stories in Bad Dirt would feel at home in the earlier collection..." Miami Herald
From the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award Winner, a stellar collection of short stories set in Wyoming.
About the Author
Annie Proulx's The Shipping News won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Award for Fiction, and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize. She is the author of the novels Postcards, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, and Accordion Crimes. She has also written two collections of short stories, Heart Songs and Other Stories and Close Range. In 2001, The Shipping News was made into a major motion picture. Annie Proulx lives in Wyoming and Newfoundland.
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