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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.
Published: Scribner on
ISBN: 9780743273480
List price: $12.99
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Annie Proulx writes so sharply that she defines her characters with what feels like a razor's edge.

This isn't a collection of happy stories about a West that never existed; it's a collection of taut essays about a hardscrabble life. Excellent writing, if not always the easiest stuff to read.more
You know what this reminded me of? The stories of Herman Charles Bosman. He wrote about life in small outposts in the South African veld in the 1930s. There's the same dry humour - the beard-growing competition is a good example - but there's also the same stories of isolation and drought and small-town feuding.more
It’s a combination of realistic stories and tall tales set in and about Wyoming. The characters live around Elk Tooth, and most of them are 'broke, proud, ingenious, and setting heels against civilized society's pull.”(p.179) They are very well drawn, and introduced in much detail and over many pages, as if in a novel. Some of them are the main characters of one story and then re-appear in for a mention in another. In many of the stories, the plot unfolds over a few paragraphs after a lengthy background, and then the climax follows. Usually, there is no conclusion.The story Man Crawling Out of Trees is slightly different, and features a couple from New York City who have come to Wyoming, like many other comfortably well-off upper-middleclass people, to retire. They are the ones who pay most attention to the beauty of the landscape, and this short story abounds with beautiful descriptions of the prairies and the mountains. Their life there presents its own adaptation challenges though.“The house stood on a sunny slope of wildflowers and silver sage with the view of the Bachelor range, which even in summer resembled a monstrous slab of halvah veined with mauve chocolate. In the distance the Wind Rivers lay against the horizon like crumpled envelopes.At dusk a globe of light like an incandescent jellyfish formed above Swift Fox and stained the mountainy darkness like the weak orange of civilization. (p 108)“..Mitchell was stunned by the beauty of the place, not the overphotographed jags of the Grand Tetons but the high prairie and the luminous yellow distance, which pleased his sense of spatial arrangement. He felt as though he had stumbled into the landscape never before seen on the earth and at the same time that he had been transported to the ur-landscape before human beginnings. The mountains crouched at every horizon like dark sleeping animals, their backs whitened by snow. He trod on wildflowers, glistening quartz crystals, on agate and jade, brilliant lichens. The unfamiliar grasses vibrated with light, their incandescent stalks lighting the huge ground. Distance reduced a herd of cattle to a handful of tossed cloves.” p.106She's got an eye- no doubt. Those descriptions are the closest to what I experienced when being there.I really enjoyed the collection, even though it took me some time to get into it, mainly because of the idiosyncrasies of the language. It’s the characters who linger. Annie Proulx seems to have a very keen eye observing them. It’s good that she is chronicling the life there, because the picture may disappear soon.more
Annie Proulx's stories are about people whose lives aren't quite under control through no fault of their own. The bittersweet in life, mixed with the all to human foibles of her characters can add up to some painfully amusing stories. Her turn of phrase and her choice of scenes is spot on.more
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Reviews

Annie Proulx writes so sharply that she defines her characters with what feels like a razor's edge.

This isn't a collection of happy stories about a West that never existed; it's a collection of taut essays about a hardscrabble life. Excellent writing, if not always the easiest stuff to read.more
You know what this reminded me of? The stories of Herman Charles Bosman. He wrote about life in small outposts in the South African veld in the 1930s. There's the same dry humour - the beard-growing competition is a good example - but there's also the same stories of isolation and drought and small-town feuding.more
It’s a combination of realistic stories and tall tales set in and about Wyoming. The characters live around Elk Tooth, and most of them are 'broke, proud, ingenious, and setting heels against civilized society's pull.”(p.179) They are very well drawn, and introduced in much detail and over many pages, as if in a novel. Some of them are the main characters of one story and then re-appear in for a mention in another. In many of the stories, the plot unfolds over a few paragraphs after a lengthy background, and then the climax follows. Usually, there is no conclusion.The story Man Crawling Out of Trees is slightly different, and features a couple from New York City who have come to Wyoming, like many other comfortably well-off upper-middleclass people, to retire. They are the ones who pay most attention to the beauty of the landscape, and this short story abounds with beautiful descriptions of the prairies and the mountains. Their life there presents its own adaptation challenges though.“The house stood on a sunny slope of wildflowers and silver sage with the view of the Bachelor range, which even in summer resembled a monstrous slab of halvah veined with mauve chocolate. In the distance the Wind Rivers lay against the horizon like crumpled envelopes.At dusk a globe of light like an incandescent jellyfish formed above Swift Fox and stained the mountainy darkness like the weak orange of civilization. (p 108)“..Mitchell was stunned by the beauty of the place, not the overphotographed jags of the Grand Tetons but the high prairie and the luminous yellow distance, which pleased his sense of spatial arrangement. He felt as though he had stumbled into the landscape never before seen on the earth and at the same time that he had been transported to the ur-landscape before human beginnings. The mountains crouched at every horizon like dark sleeping animals, their backs whitened by snow. He trod on wildflowers, glistening quartz crystals, on agate and jade, brilliant lichens. The unfamiliar grasses vibrated with light, their incandescent stalks lighting the huge ground. Distance reduced a herd of cattle to a handful of tossed cloves.” p.106She's got an eye- no doubt. Those descriptions are the closest to what I experienced when being there.I really enjoyed the collection, even though it took me some time to get into it, mainly because of the idiosyncrasies of the language. It’s the characters who linger. Annie Proulx seems to have a very keen eye observing them. It’s good that she is chronicling the life there, because the picture may disappear soon.more
Annie Proulx's stories are about people whose lives aren't quite under control through no fault of their own. The bittersweet in life, mixed with the all to human foibles of her characters can add up to some painfully amusing stories. Her turn of phrase and her choice of scenes is spot on.more
Great writing, even if I can hardly stand to read collections of short stories.more
Annie Proulx is a very good writer. The plots and characters in these short stories seem like nothing but real and true and inevitable-- as if you're reading about them in a newspaper.more
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