Monday, September 24, 2007

WYOMING STORIES Annie Proulx 4th estate $30

I reviewed this collection on Radio New Zealand National earlier today. Here are my notes:

Annie Proulx is of course one of the truly great contemporary American writers. Amazingly her first novel, Postcards, was published when she was 56 years of age. It won her the Pen/Faulkner Award. Then came perhaps her greatest work, The Shipping News, which won the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award and the Irish Times International Prize and really established her as a very fine writer. After that were two more novels Accordian Crimes and That Old Ace in the Hole. All four novels received much critical acclaim.

In between these novels came three collections of short stories – Heart Songs, Close Range and Bad Dirt and before Annie Proulx’s legions of fans get too excited about a new work from her this title we are reviewing today is not a new collection but rather the combining into one book of the two previous collections published as Close Range and Bad Dirt. It says a lot for Proulx that even though it is not a new work it is still being reviewed as if it were. She has of course won many awards for her short stories including the O.Henry Prize on two occasions. Her stories often appear in collections of The Best American Short Stories, in fact I recall seeing stories by her in collections put together by both Garrison Keillor and John Updike. So she is up there with the very best, no question of that.

It’s a big book, more than 500 pages, so if you have a long plane journey ahead of you, or a Pacific island holiday planned, then this is the book to take with you.
Each of the two books that make up this omnibus edition contained 11 stories and so in this new title there are 22 short stories.

Of course the first collection, Close Range , contained Brokeback Mountain, the 32 page story from which the Academy award-winning film of the same name was made. After the film was released and became such a hit the paperback edition of Close Range containing the Brokeback Mountain story became an enormous best-seller being reprinted 19 times.
Interestingly Brokeback Mountain, like many of her short stories was first published in The New Yorker. In her acknowledgements she speaks fondly of working with Bill Buford the fiction editor at The New Yorker.

So these stories, as the book’s title suggests, are all set in Wyoming where the author has lived since 1994. They are mostly stories of the harsh, lonely beauty of that state and the country folk who live and work there. The stories are often of people with little hope living in tough conditions, I guess you could call them extreme environments, and there is a sadness that pervades many of them. Brokeback Mountain itself is a superb piece of writing but it is an extremely sad story.
You don’t read this book then to be cheered up, but you do read it if you enjoy short fiction of the highest quality with masterful use of the language by a woman writing at the top of her game.

Author pic from the New Yorker. There is a lot of other information & review coverage of her titles on this site, its worth a visit.

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