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Bird Cloud: A Memoir Hardcover – Unabridged, January 4, 2011

3.3 out of 5 stars 67 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

The Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Brokeback Mountain portrays her flawed paradise in the majestic, hardscrabble West in this vibrant memoir. Proulx bought a 640-acre nature preserve by the North Platte River in Wyoming and started building her dream house, a project that took years and went hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget. In her bustling account, Proulx salivates over the prospect of a Japanese soak tub, polished concrete floor, solar panels, and luxe furnishings that often turn into pricey engineering fiascoes. The meticulous master builders she dubs the James Gang are the book's heroes. Though the house never quite lives up to its promise, it does inspire the author's engrossing natural history of the locale. Proulx drives cattle off of the overgrazed terrain; finds stone arrowheads; recounts the lore of the Indians, ranchers, and foppish big-game hunters who contested the land; and documents the antics of the eagles, magpies, mountain lions, and other critters who tolerate her presence. Like her fiction, Proulx's memoir flows from a memorable landscape where "the sagebrush seems nearly black and beaten low by the ceaseless wind"; the result is a fine evocation of place that becomes a meditation on the importance of a home, however harsh and evanescent. (Jan.) (c)
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From Bookmarks Magazine

Part memoir, part nature journal, part history, and part construction journal, Bird Cloud is, as the Boston Globe sums up, “a strange, disjointed, often beautiful book.” The first point many critics commented on was its curious timing given the foreclosure crisis. “There is a whiff of unexamined privilege” throughout, notes the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and most did not disagree. Yet whether in good taste or bad, that wasn’t the main point of contention. Reviewers generally agreed that Proulx is a master of capturing place, and her descriptions of the wild landscape held even naysayers’ interest. However, many thought the writing unrestrained and circuitous, with no sense of unifying story. In the end, Bird Cloud may offer the most for design lovers—and those with $3.7 million to spend, as the property is now up for sale.
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Scribner; First Edition edition (January 4, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0743288807
  • ISBN-13: 978-0743288804
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.9 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (67 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #186,757 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Annie Proulx's The Shipping News won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the National Book Award for Fiction, and the Irish Times International Fiction Prize. She is the author of two other novels: Postcards, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award, and Accordion Crimes. She has also written two collections of short stories, Heart Songs and Other Stories and Close Range. In 2001, The Shipping News was made into a major motion picture. Annie Proulx lives in Wyoming and Newfoundland.

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
It is common for a reader who enters an Annie Proulx novel or short story to find that it grows on you page by page, layer by layer, as her sure carpentry builds a fine and strong effect. That was my experience with the non-fiction "Bird Cloud." If in her best fiction Proulx carpenters untold stories into life, this new work finds Proulx retelling old stories, resurfacing tales of history, geology, geography, climate, biology. Her evident pleasure in doing so means that many readers will be pleased with the telling.

Take note of the book's cover, a photograph well-selected by Proulx herself, for it is a true harbinger of what the 234 pages inside will bring. It is not a mistake that you cannot see the house whose three-year construction (2004-2006) some publicity material and some reviews mistakenly suggest is the main subject of the book. You are right to imagine the sky and the rangeland extending to the horizon hold multitudes.

"Bird Cloud" is not a Wyoming version of "House," Tracy Kidder's 1985 book that meticulously recounted the planning, design and construction of a New England custom home. Proulx offers us no blueprints, no floor plans, no budget details, no additional photos. Yes, she parcels out a few practical "how-to's" and a selection of vignettes (mostly about construction snafus and disappointments), but the house-related material occupies less than half of the book's content.

The building is not where Proulx fixes her emotional energy.
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Format: Hardcover
I find the writing of Annie Proulx compelling; her characters are real and the settings ring true. This book is primarily her description of the process of building a very expensive custom house on a section in rural Wyoming and an abbreviated account of the history of the setting, the native peoples, and its wildlife. One gets to know something about Annie Proulx as a person by reading this book. It details her aesthetics, her love of the land, her response to frustration, her search for the "perfect home," and her naivete about construction. The tone is somewhat whiny, as the expenses mount up, the architect's vision is not practical, and she discovers that the county actually does not plow the road as far as her gate (she didn't confirm this before she bought the land and built the house.) Some sections read like a narrative of her birdwatching and wildlife spotting journal. If you want to know more about Ms. Proulx or if you do not know anything about the environmental history of Wyoming, you may find this interesting.
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Format: Hardcover
Having read all of Annie Proulx's previous writings, I was expecting, I had to force myself through Bird Cloud. There were brief "hooks" when she began to describe the geology, the natural beauty, the wildlife, the weather. However, she lost me in the long passages about choosing cabinetry, the angst over flooring, the wish to build yet another house which was not too noisy, the need to catalog all her books, the need for a place that allowed her to plant a garden, the hardship of driving long distances to Whole Foods. I hope her next book dissects unnecessary consumption. I hope she analyzes the need for those with money to build in untouched places. Perhaps she could write a set of directions on how to live lightly and wisely.
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Format: Hardcover
She has really stepped into it this time. I guess we expect that someone who has written beautiful stories, that transport our imaginations, yet seem grounded in something essential (The Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain) would somehow be grounded herself. This is far far from the case. A sense of "I deserve it at any cost" runs strongly through the book. Her false environmental ethic is pitifully exposed as she tells the story of building a monstrosity of a house in the middle of nowhere, for one person, with materials trucked in from all corners of the globe. Awkwardly woven into the house chronicle are half-hearted attempts at natural history, geology, archaeology and native American history. All of which left me with the feeling that I was in the clutches of an amateur. I'm not anti-wealth, but I am anti-arrogance, and this book seems quite arrogant to me. Even cashing in on her name in this way to finance the project seems somehow wrong. How many of her readers can relate to a quarter million dollar cost overrun, and the $40,000 it costs to repair the designer concrete floor because it just didn't look right? The final insult to God's good Earth is the discovery that the road to the house is impassible during the long Wyoming winters, so Proulx's mansion becomes instantly transformed into a seasonal cottage. I'm gaging again.
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I have been a fan of Annie Proulx for years ... ever since discovering her with one of her wonderful stories in The New Yorker. I have bought every one of her hardcovers since then, (short of How To Make Apple Cider!), and have enjoyed them, especially her Wyoming stories, since I come from and went to high school and College in Wyoming and worked at Eatons Ranch, out of Sheridan, for many years. Her last two books I was disappointed with: the dark and gloomy. "Accordian Crimes", and now the hopeless "Bird Cloud", which I so looked forward to, I bought it in advance. Here Annie buys land in southeastern Wyoming, without surveying it's year-round weather conditions ... the County doesn't plow her road in the winter, so she's either snowed-in or out! Then she endeavors to build a glitzy, fussy home more suited to the Hamptons than the North Platte, and spends the balance of the book whining about it's cost over-runs, and construction difficulties in the boondocks. Luckily, she's wealthy from her literary output, so she pours hundreds of thousands to tart the place up with hopelessly fussy accutrements and deluxe furnishings, a Japanese soak tub, polished concrete floors she keeps changing the colors of, amid countless architectural mistakes ad nauseum, to where I just didn't care any more. Her main descriptive largesse involves the bird population thereabouts, worrying about the eagles nesting, as well as the neighbors' cattle marching down the creek onto her property. Some of her descriptions are wonderful, and vintage Proulx, but she lost my interest when the basic story (if there even IS one) of a wealthy single woman pissing-away millions of dollars building an inappropriate luxe house in a country more suitable to a nice log-cabin. Now I hear the place is up for sale for $3.7 million. Good luck to her in this market! I hate to think that Annie Proulx, in her eighties, may have her best material behind her.
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