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1 Burnside Literature- A to Z

That Old Ace in the Hole


That Old Ace in the Hole Cover



Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for That Old Ace in the Hole

1) What techniques does the author use in the first sentence of this novel to bring the rich world of the Panhandle alive? Similarly, how do the vivid, meticulous descriptions that characterize the first chapter acquaint us not only with Bob Dollar, but with the complex and often contradictory images that dot the Texas landscape?

2) Bob Dollar describes the Panhandle by saying, "it seemed he was not so much in a place as confronting the raw material of human use." How does this quote, which comes early on in the story, set the stage for the struggle that happens between the people of Woolybucket, and the Hog industry? How does the Panhandle give Bob the impression that it is not a place, or a home, but a landscape made for human consumption?

3) Martin Merton Fronk, Cy Frease, Rope Butt, Tater Crouch. These are just a few examples of the sometimes humorous and always original names Proulx gives to the characters who inhabit That Old Ace in the Hole. How much importance should we, as the reader, give to these names? In what ways does the author use names, not only to highlight specific aspects of characters' personalities, but to show where people are coming from and where the plot might be going?

4) Is this a story about small town history and interpersonal dynamics between country folk? Is it a fictionalized account of the dangers of industrializing farmland? Or is it about the constant and inevitable struggle between tradition and modernity? What do you consider to be the central theme of this novel? What theme resonates most strongly for you? Why?

5) There is clearly tension between the ways different characters view animals in this story. While Global Pork Rind considers hogs to be nothing more than "pork units," native Panhandlers like Ace argue that pigs are "intelligent...gregarious animals." Which do you agree with? Is this a moral issue? Does it matter how humans treat animals when they are destined for slaughter anyway? Did this novel make you re-consider any of your personal choices or your view of meat production and consumption in this country?

6) On page 86, LaVon tells Bob about the time period when barbed wire was becoming widely used on the Panhandle, but neglects to say that "in fencing the land a certain balance shifted. Now Harshberger felt that the land was servant to him and owed him a living, owed him everything he could get from it." How does dividing up the land change the way residents relate to it? Although some characters, like Harshberger, make their living from the land they own, what have they lost in their attempts to control it?

7) After the cockfight, Bob comes to understand that "the cocks represent their owners, that the grossest lout, the skinniest Asian, mingled his psychological identification with that of the sleek, beautiful and dangerous birds." In what other ways do the characters in That Old Ace in the Hole project personal desires and insecurities on both animals and inanimate objects?

8) Why do Uncle Tam's plastic trinkets mean so much to him? Discuss value. Why are some things valuable to one person and useless to another?

9) At one point, LaVon says to Bob, "Forget that Pioneer and first-settler stuff...Who do you think settled the west? No, not pioneers. Business! First the traders...then the army posts...then the rayroads. It's all about business in this country. Has been from day one." In what way does this view challenge the traditional, romanticized image of the Wild West? Do you agree that it was industry and not pioneers that settled places like the Texas Panhandle? Using this quote discuss Global Pork Rind's enterprises in the Panhandle.

10) Given the great demand for large amounts of cheap, quickly produced meat in this country, do you think there is a way to resolve the conflict of interests between the farmers and the meat industry? Does the book suggest a way to solve this intricate problem? Do you think there is a solution?

11) Try to imagine these characters in ten years. Where does Bob Dollar end up? What changes come to Woolybucket?

Product Details

Proulx, Annie
Scribner Book Company
Prouix, Annie
New York
Young men
Texas Panhandle
Oklahoma Panhandle
General Fiction
General Fiction
Literature-A to Z
Pulitzer Prize; PEN Faulkner Award; Brokeback Mountain; Shipping News; National Book Award; New Yorker; American West; E. Annie Proulx; short stories; Flannery O Connor; Bob Dollar; hog farms; Texas; Texas ranch
Edition Description:
Series Volume:
Publication Date:
September 16, 2003
Grade Level:
8 x 5.25 in 10.955 oz

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Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Literature » A to Z

That Old Ace in the Hole Used Trade Paper
0 stars - 0 reviews
$6.95 In Stock
Product details 384 pages Scribner Book Company - English 9780743242486 Reviews:
"Staff Pick" by ,

What engages the reader in this story is not a traditional plot line; rather, it's a garland of overtly detailed vignettes and anecdotes about a place and a roster of quirky characters that Proulx obviously loves creating. There's wit and wackiness galore. A rich yet somewhat dry dessert — we're talkin' Oklahoma here.

"Review" by , "Proulx is our laureate of landscape....[Her] fiction has become even richer book by book. With this funny and haunting panorama...she has managed to outdo her previous outdoing."
"Review" by , "[S]he revels in odd twists of fate and characters as quirky as their names, and greatly sharpens our insights into western history and ecological realities while rhapsodizing splendidly over everything from Bakelite jewelry to quilts to windmills."
"Review" by , "[A] bawdy, environmental comedy....It's not a novel for impatient readers, but what seem like dislocated stories are ultimately tied up. And what begins as dark comedy ends full of hope and dreams."
"Review" by , "Funny, deft, and sharply told, Proulx's latest suffers from excessive local color in parts, but it's engaging and worthwhile — if not up to her usual level."
"Review" by , "Too much of the text feels like only partly digested research, without much happening despite the pileup of stories, and the reader feels the urge to reach out and shake the slightly unreal Bob. But Proulx's luscious, somewhat wacky way with words remains intact (who else would talk about 'bronze Polaroid light' or 'a weasel-headed horse'?), and by the final pages she has worked her old magic." (read the entire Atlantic review)
"Review" by , "One grows quite fond of the characters....But the novel...doesn't engage the emotions with the same immediacy as did...The Shipping News. Readers must settle here for a good story steeped in atmosphere, but not a compelling one."
"Review" by , "[In] That Old Ace in the Hole, Proulx's hardscrabble wit and wisdom are heightened by the force of her language — her bone-deep feel for its curves and crevices."
"Review" by , "Her new novel, That Old Ace in the Hole, squeals on the horrors of corporate hog farming with all the subtlety of a stuck pig. Her old-fashioned country folks are quirky characters who love the land and treat their animals with respect. The officers of the Global Pork Rind corporation, meanwhile, are conniving liars who speak of 'pork units' and live in Asia. The story is continually entertaining, but thematically boarish." (read the entire CSM review)
"Review" by , "Vivid character descriptions and flashes of the passing daily show abound in this book....The prose may be slow and demand care from the reader, but Proulx repays our attention with a thousand shocks of charged recognition."
"Review" by , "[A] book that sometimes feels more like a collection of short stories than a novel. But there is such richness here, so much eccentricity, not to mention laugh-out-loud humor....And the writing is drop-dead gorgeous."
"Review" by , "Rich, engaging....Annie Proulx is, perhaps, our best author of place...and That Old Ace in the Hole finds her in the Texas panhandle, probing its empty landscape for deeply etched characters and gentle humor."
"Review" by , "Proulx casts her sharp eye on her beloved and bedeviled Pandhandle country....[S]he's that odd literary bid, an itinerant regionalist, a writer who moves from one locale to another but in each settings nests until she makes it her own."
"Synopsis" by , The New York Times bestseller from the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The Shipping News!
"Synopsis" by , Proulx's novel is told through the eyes of Bob Dollar, a young Denver man whose own parents abandoned him on his uncle's doorstep when he was seven. A strikingly intimate account of the vast waves of change shaping American culture across the decades, That Old Ace in the Hole is an exceptional achievement from a fine writer.
"Synopsis" by , From Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Annie Proulx comes That Old Ace in the Hole, an exhilarating story brimming with language, history, landscape, music, and love.

Bob Dollar is a young man from Denver trying to make good in a bad world. Out of college and aimless, Dollar takes a job with Global Pork Rind, scouting out big spreads of land that can be converted to hog farms. Soon he's holed up in a two-bit Texas town called Woolybucket, where he settles into LaVon Fronk's old bunkhouse for fifty dollars a month, helps out at Cy Frease's Old Dog Café, and learns the hard way how vigorously the old Texas ranch owners will hold on to their land, even when their children want no part of it.

Robust, often bawdy, strikingly original, That Old Ace in the Hole traces the waves of change that have shaped the American West over the past century — and in Bob Dollar, Proulx has created one of the most irrepressible characters in contemporary fiction.

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