Jon Billman When We Were Wolves: Stories

ISBN 13: 9780375502583

When We Were Wolves: Stories

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9780375502583: When We Were Wolves: Stories
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"If you could have been around a hundred and fifty years ago, and passed through the landscape as a beaver-trapping tough with Jim Bridger or Jedediah Smith, before coal barons, before soda ash and oil, before Mormons, before you could stand outside and watch satellites pass through the night sky or silhouettes kissing in warm apartment windows, when this history was wild and new, you could have just pointed and named something of permanence, a mountain, a river--at least a creek--after yourself. Or they would have named it for you, a permanent mark, just for being here."

From a new talent that Annie Proulx has called an "important emerging writer" comes a surprising and expansive collection of stories, steeped in the lore of the frontier but unmistakably fresh and of our time.
        
When We Were Wolves roams over a West we never knew existed--colonized by rogues and tricksters, Custer impersonators, firefighters with a weakness for arson, and the other rootless folk who come to rest under the vast and forgiving desert sky. Jon Billman writes about accidental lives: people who are trapped in unsuitable marriages, impossible situations, but who handle them with the odd grace of those who are determined to live by their own strange code. He mingles the skewed humor of David Sedaris with the loping, rough-edged appeal of Tom McGuane. This is a beguiling new entry on the map of American fiction.

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Review:

The way Jon Billman writes it, Hams Fork, Wyoming, is a kind of latter-day Cicely, Alaska. You remember Cicely, the fictional town at the heart of TV's Northern Exposure? Hams Fork, the rough-and-tumble setting for most of the stories in Billman's first collection, gives it a run for its money in sheer volume of crazy artists, tough-talking schoolteachers, and plain old ornery cusses. This is a town where painting a rainbow-hued bare-chested mermaid on the water tower in the middle of the night qualifies as a major event. In Hams Fork, the men are boys, and are they ever bored. They chase away their boredom with drinking and adultery and doing stupid things in the wilderness.

Billman knows his terrain: his obvious first-hand experience of his characters' more esoteric pastimes--firefighting, mead-making, dogsled racing--makes for an abundance of satisfying detail. And gear fetishists will find passages hand-fashioned for their consumption: "The sled was beautiful, in the same linear way that antique gun stocks, oak letter desks, old saddles, bamboo fly rods, handmade cowboy boots, beavertail snowshoes, and wooden skies are beautiful." Billman's writing lets out a lonesome cowboy yowl that seems written expressly to the escapist fantasy specs of the city-bound dude. He's a Pam Houston for boys.

As handily as Billman pulls off his portrait of a Western town, he has set out to do more: to limn the rootlessness and loneliness of the modern-day West itself. One character "has ridden Hams Fork to exhaustion. Just up and leaving is acceptable, expected in the West." But the author's chin-scratching search for meaning seldom yields more than the most hackneyed revelations. A little less of this predictable angst and a little more of his (very evident) comedic talents would have made this fine book a first-class read. --Claire Dederer

From the Back Cover:


"Jon Billman is a brilliant young writer with an astonishing range. These fresh and vivid stories are gritty, full of energy and humor, a sharp pleasure to read. Billman's feeling for rural backcountry, his knowledge of wildfire, baseball, bad weather and treacherous human hearts, mark him as an important emerging writer."--Annie Proulx

"I think it's the best collection of stories to come out of the American West in recent times. Jon Billman is very gifted--I look forward eagerly to what he does next."--Larry McMurtry

"An auspicious debut collection . . .this dream-breaking Wyoming proves
remarkably rich ground for Billman, who possesses an eye for the irony and
humor that sometimes flourish precisely because little else can."
--The New York Times Book Review

"The natural heir to flinty-eyed writers like McMurtry, Billman is lethally
witty and wonderfully perverse."
--OUTSIDE magazine

"An excellent debut collection . . . strikingly vivid. There are no sepia
tones here. The stories pulse with color, immediacy, and humor . . . even
when love fails, the characters enjoy a kind of exquisite loneliness, as
they extend the boundaries of an inner landscape."
--The Wall Street Journal

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9780812992311: When We Were Wolves: Stories

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ISBN 10:  0812992318 ISBN 13:  9780812992311
Publisher: Random House, 1999
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