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Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3by Annie Proulx
Synopses & Reviews
Returning to the territory of "Brokeback Mountain" (in her first volume of Wyoming Stories) and "Bad Dirt" (her second), National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx delivers a stunning and visceral new collection. In Fine Just the Way It Is, she has expanded the limits of the form. Her stories about multiple generations of Americans struggling through life in the West are a ferocious, dazzling panorama of American folly and fate.
"Every ranch...had lost a boy," thinks Dakotah Hicks as she drives through "the hammered red landscape" of Wyoming, "boys smiling, sure in their risks, healthy, tipped out of the current of life by liquor and acceleration, rodeo smashups, bad horses, deep irrigation ditches, high trestles, tractor rollovers and 'unloaded' guns. Her boy, too....The trip along this road was a roll call of grief."
Proulx's characters try to climb out of poverty and desperation but get cut down as if the land itself wanted their blood. Deeply sympathetic to the men and women fighting to survive in this harsh place, Proulx turns their lives into fiction with the power of myth — and leaves the reader in awe. The winner of two O. Henry Prizes, Annie Proulx has been anthologized in nearly every major collection of great American stories. Her bold, inimitable language, her exhilarating eye for detail and her dark sense of humor make this a profoundly compelling collection.
"The steely Proulx (The Shipping News, etc.) returns with another astonishing series of hardscrabble lives lived in the sparse, inhospitable West, where one mistake can put you on a long-winding trail to disaster. 'Family Man' is set in the Mellowhorn Home for old cowboys and aging ranch widows, where resident curmudgeon Ray Forkenbrock shares memories of his father with his granddaughter and an eavesdropping caretaker; the secret he reveals gives new meaning to the word 'relative.' In two demonically clever riffs on human weakness, 'I've Always Loved This Place' and 'Swamp Mischief,' the Devil, accompanied by his secretary, Duane Fork, must entertain himself thinking up new ways to bother the living and the dead, as temptation is no longer a necessary evil. Saving the best for last, 'Tits-up in a Ditch' breaks new literary ground with the gut-wrenching tale of an Iraq veteran who returns to her family raw with grief. Pioneer homesteaders facing drought and debt give way to modern-day hippies trying to lose themselves in the vanishing wilderness and real estate developers out to make a buck — unforgettable characters in nine stories that range in tone from crude cowboy humor to heartbreaking American tragedy. (Sept.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Annie Proulx turned 73 last month, and age has not softened her one bit. For almost three decades she has dazzled readers with fierce, casually brutal stories set in rural America. And her latest collection of Wyoming tales, "Fine Just the Way It Is," excavates new riches from this golden vein. It also drives home Proulx's penchant for introducing sudden weather. Ice storms and blizzards... Washington Post Book Review (read the entire Washington Post review) undo more than one character in these nine tales. The first casualty occurs on page 8, when an old horse catcher walks across a freezing desert in search of shelter. Of course, some of these Weather Channel plot twists have to do with Wyoming itself. Anyone who's ever lived in a place where the roads are empty and the sky can turn in minutes knows that frigid deaths are just a fact of life. But with Proulx, sudden storms verge on a kind of morality. "For Verl Lister everything turned on luck," she writes in one story, "and he had experienced very little of the good kind." Much the same could be said about the other characters in this collection, who are routinely blindsided by forces outside their control: dropping corn prices, heavy rocks, wild horses, early contractions — even the Devil himself. (Only in one story, "Deep-Blood-Greasy-Bowl," do the stars align favorably, sending a herd of bison running over a cliff.) In Proulx's world, characters don't come to sorry ends because they're bad or flawed. Good people fall into grief, like bears falling into booby-traps, because Lady Luck scorns them. Nowhere is this more clear than in the book's most thrilling story, "Tits-Up in a Ditch," which follows the loveless life of a girl named Dakotah. Abandoned by her mother moments after her birth, raised by two resentful grandparents, Dakotah is given only a brief season of tenderness. Joining the army, she finds and loses a girlfriend in the midst of the Iraq War. Then she awakes in a hospital and is shipped home permanently maimed. If Proulx's first great Wyoming story, "Brokeback Mountain," was about the pain of loving uncontrollably, this collection's jewel is about the ache of not having anyone to love. In our Western states, some are seared by wildfires, while others must bear the cold without a flame at all. Marcela Valdes reviews frequently for the Nation, Bookforum and The Washington Post. Reviewed by Marcela Valdes, Washington Post Book World (Copyright 2006 Washington Post Book World Service/Washington Post Writers Group)
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"[T]akes giant steps in advocating Proulx as simply one of the most inventive yet, at the same time, traditional story writers working today....[These stories] are timeless in their depicted tragedies." Booklist (Starred Review)
"[H]arrowing, sometimes darkly funny....We rarely get the chance to read about people like this in contemporary fiction...and [Proulx's] tales of their largely unexamined lives are rich, unsentimental, and affecting. (Grade: B+)" Entertainment Weekly
"Prepare to be surprised, disturbed, and uncomfortably amused by Proulx's attention to detail and her unflinching descriptions of life's inherent cruelties. Highly recommended." Library Journal
"[A]fter a decade of mining the same rugged landscape, Proulx's fiction seems to have succumbed to the law of diminishing returns. Her prose remains as prickly as ever, but some of her stories verge on folk tales and tall tales with stock figures." Kirkus Reviews
"All of her usual tendencies are in this new collection...but they are blended more naturally. The range in tone, character and time is wider but every story feels whole and apt." The Portland Oregonian
"[R]eaffirms that no one writes better about tough people in tough places....In the hands of a lesser writer, Dakotah's sad tale could be predictable melodrama. Here, it's memorable drama that can be read on several levels." USA Today
"Many of the stories in Fine Just the Way It Is are breathtaking in their cool depiction of the hardships of that life and the astonishing amount of stubborn resolve it takes to survive it — or just try to." St. Petersburg Times
Returning to the territory of "Brokeback Mountain," National Book Award- and Pulitzer Prize-winner Proulx has written a stunning and visceral collection of new stories.
About the Author
Annie Proulx is the author of eight books, including the novel The Shipping News and the story collection
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