PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.
Books

Fine Just the Way It Is by Annie Proulx

Michael Upchurch
Seattle Times (MCT)

Proulx's antic, mordant vision of human life as fodder for a wildly inventive Mortality Machine is in full play here.


Fine Just the Way It Is

Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Subtitle: Wyoming Stories 3
Author: Annie Proulx
Price: $25.00
Length: 221
Formats: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781416571667
US publication date: 2008-09
Amazon

Proulx's antic, mordant vision of human life as fodder for a wildly inventive Mortality Machine is in full play here. Some tales have the stoical lilt of old ballads of love and loss. Others are macabre flights of fancy. As she moves from Wyoming's prehistoric past through its pioneer era to its coal-gas-boom present, Proulx (The Shipping News) puts her keen sense of people and place to work.

Macabre flight of fancy first: "The Sagebrush Kid" is a gallows-humor gem that belongs in all the best horror anthologies. It opens during Wyoming's stagecoach days with a childless wife who devotes her maternal attentions to a baby pig and then a chicken, both with bad results.

Finally, she settles on "an inanimate clump of sagebrush that at twilight took on the appearance of a child reaching upward as if piteously begging to be lifted from the ground." She spoils the thing rotten, feeding it water mixed first with milk, then with "meat juice." What plant wouldn't develop a man-size appetite after that?

Two other historical tales strike more sobering notes. "Them Old Cowboy Songs" depicts teenage newlyweds trying to make a go of homesteading in the mountains of Wyoming in the 1880s. Both have escaped from rough or troubled family backgrounds. But their blissful back-to-Eden idyll soon becomes a hard-pressed battle for survival.

In "The Great Divide," spanning two decades from 1920 to 1940, the struggle to get by is paramount, as well. The choices of livelihood are farming, horse-wrangling or coal mining. And it's even odds which option will prove more lethal or soul-killing.

Proulx dips back into the Wyoming of 2,500 years ago in "Deep-Blood-Greasy-Bowl", the collection's most atypical offering, about a tribe scheming to drive a buffalo herd over a cliff for the windfall of meat and hides it will provide. Her detail is sharp ("One of the young men dashed too close and was sucked into the hoofed landslide"), and her vision of what tribal life might have been like is vivid.

But it's in her three contemporary-set tales that Proulx really shines. "Family Man" portrays an octogenarian ranch hand stuck in a retirement home (an unusual place: its director believes "the last feeble years should be enjoyed" and promotes "smoking, drinking, lascivious television programs and plenty of cheap food"). There the old man is visited by a favorite granddaughter to whom he decides to disclose "the ugly family secret". The revelations don't go as planned, however.

"Testimony of the Donkey" follows the progress of a foolish solo hiker in the wild, a trip she makes for stubborn, yet perfectly intelligible reasons: breakup with the boyfriend she was planning to go with. The natural descriptions of brutal sun, icy nights and hazardous mountain terrain are extraordinary.

As for the book's closer, "Tits-Up in a Ditch", it rivals Proulx's famous "Brokeback Mountain" in the tender-tough emotional trajectory it explores. An abandoned daughter, raised by her reluctant grandparents, is starved for any kind of care or attention in her girlhood, but soldiers on -- literally, when she sees the military as her only means of escaping the small Wyoming town that has treated her so indifferently.

Nearly all the tales above have peripheral story-strands -- stagecoach-stop sexual squabbles, ranch rivalries, sibling estrangements -- that enrich their fabric and add a juggler's playfulness to the proceedings that lightens the severity of Proulx's outlook. It's as if she were saying, "Sure, life will kill you, but look what goes on in the meantime."

The oddballs-out here are two stories about the Devil and his "demon secretary" that allow Proulx to vent about human folly and venality in a slapdash way, but they feel more as though they're script treatments for South Park. They look a little foolish here, considering the fine company they're keeping.

7

Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.


Music

Books

Film

Recent
Music

Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.

Film

15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.

Music

Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.

Music

Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.

Music

Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.

Music

Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.

Music

Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.

Film

The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.

Music

British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.

Film

Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.

Music

​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.

Music

The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.

Music

Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.

Television

How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.

Music

Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.

Music

CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.

Music

Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.

Music

While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.


Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews



Features
Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.