BOOK REVIEW ANNIE PROULX CLOSE RANGE BOOK REVIEW- ANNIE PROULX – OPEN RANGE 1999 Harper Perennial

BOOK REVIEW- ANNIE PROULX – OPEN RANGE 1999 Harper Perennial.

A remarkable collection of short stories about the men and women of the State of Wyoming, and its harsh, unforgiving climate.  The best-known story, Brokeback Mountain, has a review to itself, but the other stories are all excellent too.

Here is a landscape that kills, mostly through harsh winters where the temperature can rival that of the Antarctic, and to endure it takes a tough, uncompromising kind of people.  Unfortunately, the strong disposition required often leaves the men of Wyoming with a brutal redneck, no nonsense disposition, which can itself be deadly for outsiders, and people who seem to just not belong. If you have some sexual hang ups too, Heaven help you.  Proulx sees her heroes as men who think of themselves as cowboys, though in her mind, the true cowboy no longer exists.

THE HALF-SKINNED STEER deals with unlikely setoff events, triggered when an ostrich in Wyoming kills a man. Unable to compete in the beef market, a rancher has tried breeding ostriches, and paid the price for it. As a relative drives hundreds of miles to pay his respects, another would-be cowboy has left a captured deer half skinned but it is still alive, and on a collision course with the man driving by.

THE BLOOD BAY is the most brutal story, featuring a group of ranchers trapped in blizzard so fierce; one man’s feet freeze in his boots and break off. The others take him to a barn and take shelter with a farmer, but in his hospitality, they neglect top tell him about the man in the barn. When the farmer discovers him, he assumes that his horses have eaten the man’s feet for him.

PEOPLE IN HELL JUST WANT A DRINK OF WATER After killing one infant child for crying too much, by throwing it in to the river in a fit of temper, a woman dotes too much on her remaining son, driving him to leave home to make his own fortune abroad. Years later, he is brought home crippled, and half burnt, after a car accident. Though hideously disfigured, he likes to try to seduce the girls of the town, and often flashes his unburnt sexual organs at them. His father warns him that he could attract the attention of a lynch mob, but the warning comes too late – the boy has been castrated and gangrene has set in to the untreated wound.

55 MILES TO THE GAS PUMP – A woman gets suspicious of how much time her husband spends away from home and skulking around in the attic of their isolated farm house, so when he makes the long journey in search of gasoline, she breaks into the attic, and finds the body parts of the many missing women he has abducted and killed. The isolation has driven him insane.

THE MUD BELOW tells of the rise and fall of a successful rodeo rider, and his decline once his injuries prevent his career continuing.

THE BUNCHGRASS EDGE OF THE WORLD – A woman spends her time and money lovingly restoring a derelict, broken down old farm tractor, despite cynical taunts from the town’s folk, and her imagined thoughts of what the tractor itself has to say on the matter.  Meanwhile, a time wasting yokel who has nothing better to do than fly around in an old plane but gets more respect for being male, and he eventually crashes into the tractor destroying the girl’s workmanship.

Entertaining and often grim, the stories tend to put the reader off going to live in Wyoming.

Arthur Chappell

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