Annie Proulx can write. I realize this should be apparent since she’s won a Pulitzer for writing, but this was the first work of hers that I read and I was blown away all the same. Close Range is a short story collection set in Wyoming, with stories that vary in length (40 pages to 2 pages) but not in punch. She sets her stories in the rural central and eastern part of the state, focusing on working class people- because its Wyoming this means a lot of ranchers, cow-hands and rodeo bums. Money is tight, people are spread thin and the weather is extreme. In Proulx’s hands, these conditions breed interesting stories, often with a strong magic realist bent (magically seductive spurs, folktale calves with malevolent intent). There is also often a hardness and a despair in these stories, but that feels less magic and sadly, more real. Proulx’s language itself is both descriptive and taught- it feels spiky, but in a way that is memorable rather than unpleasant.
I was trying to think of which stories stuck with me the most and its hard to narrow done because they all resonate. The story that I knew most about going in was Brokeback Mountain, which is the last story in the collection. It is just as heartbreaking as the movie it was made into, but where the movie featured shiny, handsome cowboys, Proulx’s characters are rougher and realer- buckteeth, skinny legs, paunchy as they approach middle age. The shortest story in the collection, 55 Miles to the Gas Pump, is very memorable, even though it is nothing but punches and jagged edges. Other stories, about rodeo bums, talking tractors, evil calves and magic spurs, sit equally at the back of my mind. They all work their way in.
My only criticism is that the rawness and despair that runs through stories meant I needed to take breathers- this was not a collection that I could read for hours straight (or, often, at bedtime). Still, well worth your time, even if you won’t be visiting Wyoming anytime soon.
I’m filling the CBR12 uncannon bingo square with this one largely because of Brokeback Mountain- it broke stereotypes for gay love stories, and eventually brought those stories to a wider audience via the film version (which was robbed of best picture at the Oscars, probably because it still felt too threatening).