Thursday, November 17, 2005
"Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2" is anything but an invitation to move to Wyoming. Annie Proulx avoids the worshipful John Denver cliches of the New West and decides to show the darker side of the windy state.
Her short stories have something of James Joyce's "The Dubliners" in them. Rather than relying on the dying English 101 plot concept, Proulx's stories end without conclusion and focus on obscure moments, painting entire life stories with a gesture or a comment.
¤ "Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2"
¤ By Annie Proulx
¤ $25 hardcover
And for those who are used to Western fiction that takes place on ranches, these characters live out their lives in trailers in Wamsutter and abandoned buildings in Casper.
Each of their lives seems to spiral out of control, slowly and almost unnoticeably, until they find themselves at the bottom with nothing but blue skies and dry sagebrush to comfort them. As the title "Bad Dirt" seems to suggest, the very earth they live on seems to be cursed.
Proulx has compassion for the recluse and the misfit and very little compassion for the wealthy who move to 35-acre ranchettes in search of some Western fantasy.
In the story, "Man Crawling Out of the Trees," Proulx chron--icles the decline of a marriage after a New York couple moves to a remote development called Star Lily Ranch.
The dry, dusty landscape leaves very little to hide behind. Problems they were able to ignore in the hustle of Manhattan sit loudly in front of them in the quiet of Wyoming.
Meanwhile, on a real ranch, Proulx watches the tragedy of a rancher whose sons despise him in the story, "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?" Gilbert Wolfscale slowly realizes he is alone in the world because the world has forgotten ranchers. He visits his son who works at a local video rental store in Sheridan and realizes no one will take over the ranch when he leaves. That's the whole story, held together and given meaning by Proulx's eloquent turn of phrase and subtle insight into the human character.