BOOK REVIEW – ANNIE PROULX – BROKEBACK MOUNTAIN in CLOSE RANGE & OTHER STORIES. 1999 Harper Perrenial Press.

The best known of Proulx’s Wyoming stories, thanks to the successful film adaptation, this is the story of forbidden love and tragedy in the harsh unforgiving modern American West.

Two young ranchers, Ennis Del Mar and Jack Twist, first meet when they are hired as sheep herders working around the bleak, inhospitable high altitude Brokeback Mountain. A particularly bitter and cold night throws them together in the same cabin, and they share a blanket as well as the fire, and find themselves making love. They say nothing about the event, but they are both profoundly affected by their experience, and over the next two decades, it begins to have a terrible effect on their relationships with wives, parents and possible employers.

The men don’t meet too often (the story is spread over twenty years). But as Del Mar’s relationship with his wife disintegrates, he starts arranging fishing trips with Twist, though this provokes suspicion when it is clear that the fishing rods have not been used.    The men are seen together by various parties, and eventually,  Twist is killed in what may be a tragic freak accident or a deliberate attack by homophobic rednecks.

News of his friend’s death deeply distresses Del Mar, who travels to Twist’s home town and calls on the grieving family. Twist has left word that he would like his ashes scattering on Brokeback Mountain, but  his parents refuse to allow it. More surprising, Del Mar discovers that a shirt he had worn on the night of their first sexual encounter, had not just gone missing – Twist had stolen it to keep as a souvenir.

This is a very well told and deeply moving story – the sexual activity is not very intensely described – what we see is the consequences of how it plays on the minds of the men for their remaining lives.

For my reviews of the other stories in Open Range see ANNIE PROULX – CLOSE RANGE 

Arthur Chappell

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