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Close Range: Wyoming Stories

Proulx, Annie

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Annie Proulx's masterful language and fierce love of Wyoming are evident in this collection of stories about loneliness, quick violence, and wrong kinds of love. In "The Mud Below," a rodeo rider's obsession marks the deepening fissures between his family life and self-imposed isolation. In "The Half-Skinned Steer," an elderly fool drives west to the ranch he grew up on for his brother's funeral, and dies a mile from home. In "Brokeback Mountain," the difficult affair between two cowboys survives everything but the world's violent intolerance.

These are stories of desperation, hard times, and unlikely elation, set in a landscape both brutal and magnificent. Enlivened by folk tales, flights of fancy, and details of ranch and rural work, they juxtapose Wyoming's traditional character and attitudes -- confrontation of tough problems, prejudice, persistence in the face of difficulty -- with the more benign values of the new west.

Stories in Close Range have appeared in The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Harper's, and GQ. They have been selected for the O. Henry Stories 1998 and The Best American Short Stories of the Century and have won the National Magazine Award for Fiction. This is work by an author writing at the peak of her craft.

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Review:

With the very first sentence of the first story in this remarkable collection, Annie Proulx demonstrates what makes her great: images sharp as paper cuts conveyed in language so imaginative and compressed it's just this side of poetry; a sense of character so specific it takes only a sentence to establish a whole life; and the underlying promise of something utterly unexpected waiting just up ahead.

In the long unfurling of his life, from tight-wound kid hustler in a wool suit riding the train out of Cheyenne to geriatric limper in this spooled-out year, Mero had kicked down thoughts of the place where he began, a so-called ranch on strange ground at the south hinge of the Big Horns.
"The Half-Skinned Steer" chronicles elderly Mero Corn's journey back to Wyoming for his brother's funeral. As he drives west, details of his eventful trip are interspersed with recollections of his youth on the ranch--most notably a tall tale he heard told long ago about a sad-sack rancher named Tin Head and a butchered steer. This is vintage Proulx, a combination of isolated landscapes, macabre events, and damaged people that adds up, in the end, to a near-perfect story. It's no surprise that "The Half-Skinned Steer" made it into John Updike's Best American Short Stories of the Century.

Proulx achieves similar results with many of the other stories in Close Range, including another prizewinner, "Brokeback Mountain," the bittersweet story of doomed love between two cowboys who "can't hardly be decent together," yet know "if we do that in the wrong place we'll be dead." But Proulx is careful to add some leavening to the mix. In "The Blood Bay" she indulges her taste for the gruesome with a morbidly amusing retelling of an Old West shaggy-dog story, while "Pair a Spurs" is the sad-funny rendering of divorce, Wyoming style. The author is a true original in every sense of the word, and her evocation of the West is as singular and surprising as that of Cormac McCarthy or Ivan Doig. Close Range is Proulx at her best. --Alix Wilber

About the Author:

Annie Proulx is the author of eight books, including the novel The Shipping News and the story collection Close Range . Her many honors include a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and a PEN/Faulkner award. Her story “Brokeback Mountain,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Her most recent book is Fine Just the Way It Is. She lives in Wyoming .

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