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Close Range : Wyoming Stories Paperback – February 10, 2000
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With the very first sentence of the first story in this remarkable collection, Annie Proulx demonstrates what makes her great: images sharp as paper cuts conveyed in language so imaginative and compressed it's just this side of poetry; a sense of character so specific it takes only a sentence to establish a whole life; and the underlying promise of something utterly unexpected waiting just up ahead.
In the long unfurling of his life, from tight-wound kid hustler in a wool suit riding the train out of Cheyenne to geriatric limper in this spooled-out year, Mero had kicked down thoughts of the place where he began, a so-called ranch on strange ground at the south hinge of the Big Horns."The Half-Skinned Steer" chronicles elderly Mero Corn's journey back to Wyoming for his brother's funeral. As he drives west, details of his eventful trip are interspersed with recollections of his youth on the ranch--most notably a tall tale he heard told long ago about a sad-sack rancher named Tin Head and a butchered steer. This is vintage Proulx, a combination of isolated landscapes, macabre events, and damaged people that adds up, in the end, to a near-perfect story. It's no surprise that "The Half-Skinned Steer" made it into John Updike's Best American Short Stories of the Century.
Proulx achieves similar results with many of the other stories in Close Range, including another prizewinner, "Brokeback Mountain," the bittersweet story of doomed love between two cowboys who "can't hardly be decent together," yet know "if we do that in the wrong place we'll be dead." But Proulx is careful to add some leavening to the mix. In "The Blood Bay" she indulges her taste for the gruesome with a morbidly amusing retelling of an Old West shaggy-dog story, while "Pair a Spurs" is the sad-funny rendering of divorce, Wyoming style. The author is a true original in every sense of the word, and her evocation of the West is as singular and surprising as that of Cormac McCarthy or Ivan Doig. Close Range is Proulx at her best. --Alix Wilber --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
From Library Journal
This marvelous collection proves that Proulx's Pulitzer Prize for The Shipping News was no one-shot deal. Set in Wyoming, the 11 stories "feature down-on-their-luck ranchers, cowboys, and working men who watch helplessly as the modern world leaves them behind." (LJ 5/1/99)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Audio Cassette edition.
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“You stand there, braced. Cloud shadows race over the buff rock stacks as a projected film, casting a queasy mottled ground rash. The air hisses and it is no local breeze but the great harsh sweep of wind from the turning of the earth. The wild country—indigo jags of mountain, grassy plain everlasting, tumbled stones like fallen cities, the flaring roll of sky—provokes a spiritual shudder. It is like a deep note that cannot be heard but is felt, it like a claw in the gut.”
Don't be tempted to look for happy endings against a backdrop like this. The characters who populate these stories, desperate for relief from their harsh, hard-scrabble existences, have a tendency to seek profit and pleasure in delusional pursuits of both the mind and the heart. Predictably (if not to them) they leave a wreckage of lives and livelihoods in their wake – either their own, their neighbors, their friends, or their families. Sometimes the lot. But oh, so enticingly.
You’ll also find Ms. Proulx’s heart-crushing tour de force, Brokeback Mountain, in this masterful lineup.
Reading other reviews, I cannot agree that the book reflects badly on Wyoming, that most of the characters are degenerate and that the book offers perversion as a source of enterntainment. Neither are the characters underdeveloped or one dimensional. I found that most of the characters learn something about themselves. But most of all I enjoyed the presence of the range in all the stories: wild, unforgiving, but also mesmerizing, captivating, of terrifying beauty.
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John Updike chose to include "The Half-Skinned Steer" in his anthology of Greatest Short Stories.Read more