Barkskins by Annie Proulx – A Book Review

Though I adore Annie Proulx’s work and count her among my favorite authors, Barkskins did not engage me as much as her previous books.

That’s not to say it’s not worthy of praise.  It’s magnificently written.  It’s also intricately detailed.  To declare it as epic may be an understatement considering it follows several generations of two men’s families from the 1700s to present day.  It pays an astounding amount of attention to historical fact, the trends and science of deforestation and reforestation, as well as various cultural customs spanning several centuries.

Honestly, I felt like I’d lived several lives by the end of this book, and it taught me much about how difficult surviving in this country proved to be for both Native Americans and the various early explorers, invaders, and settlers.  After all, nearly every character meets with a difficult end in this novel.  It also made me think about my own family history, as well as what the future may hold for my descendants.

So why didn’t I like it as much as Proulx’s other work?  I suppose I found it a little dense and slow.  Furthermore, part of what made it brilliant is part of why I didn’t find myself engaged – there are a lot of characters.  Too many characters, actually.  Six or seven of them I found captivating, but many of the rest were difficult to track and I lost interest in their particular stories.

Frankly, I may not have been in the right frame of mind for a book so demanding of my time and attention.  Perhaps I should revisit it in the summer when things are a little slower and I can give it more consideration (and possibly take notes).

As expected, Proulx has delivered a masterfully written book full of such passionate detail and historical authenticity that it’s hard not to appreciate its many positives.  In the end, though, I simply found it too long with too many characters that did not consistently hold my interest.

Image result for barkskins book cover

Brain Power by (Not) Annie Proulx – A Book Review

I am an Annie Proulx fan.  I’ve read the majority of her books, including her nonfiction, and I plan to continue reading anything she releases.  When I saw Brain Power, released December of 2014, I assumed it must be some sort of parody project on her part.  She’s got a great sense of humor, and with the Homer Simpson cover and the fact that it’s self-published, I figured Proulx was simply having some fun and I wanted to experience it.

Let me say from the outset that this book is not by Annie Proulx.  I don’t know why her name is on the cover, but the interior pages list John Gerveso as the author.  Some quick research revealed that he’s published similar projects in the past through Amazon’s CreateSpace.

This book takes itself very seriously and seems to be a self-help book.  Why is Annie Proulx’s name on the cover?  I have no idea. Why is Homer Simpson on the cover?  No idea on that one, either.  I suspect permission was not granted on either account.

What I do know is that if you are an Annie Proulx fan, this book appears to be using her good name fraudulently and I advise you to avoid it at all cost.

I will return this book to immediately.

Please do inspect the pictures below as proof.


Fine Just the Way It Is by Annie Proulx – A Book Review

Annie Proulx continues her mastery of the short story.

In Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3, Proulx once again gives us stories primarily taking place in or associated with Wyoming.  Her characters are terribly human-warts and all-and her stories are typically blunt, to the point, and full of (sometimes brief) life.

But, as straightforward as her stories are with their plainspoken characters, Proulx also delivers stunningly beautiful narrative language when detailing landscapes, flora, and animal life.  Some of her imagery literally astounded me it was so well crafted and provocative.

However, unlike previous Wyoming volumes, this addition to the series is far more brutal to its characters.  Now Proulx has never occurred to me as a woman who gets overly sentimental about her creations, but I was surprised at the tragedies she forced her men and women to endure.  That being said, she certainly did not cross the line into sensationalism; everything she threw at her characters was well within reality’s parameters.

Well, for the most part.

I was especially happy that in three stories in particular, Proulx exits her normally grounded repertoire and gives us something bordering fantasy.  Now, because it’s Proulx, we’re not talking Tolkien here, but two of her stories hilariously focus on the devil and the other, well, I don’t want to spoil anything, but it features a sagebrush where mysterious disappearances persist.  I think that with her particular style and sensibilities, calling them tall tales may be more appropriate than fantasy.

Consequently, I sensed a real sense of dark humor in these stories, and I loved it!  While most of the stories were very serious in terms of subject matter, they all utilized a morose fun that-unless happening to us-demanded a chuckle or two.

All in all, this collection was a bit of a break from Proulx in terms of style, especially when read between the lines, but every bit as exquisitely written and enjoyable as past works. 

Proulx’s talent is unrelenting with each new work she releases.

Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx – A Book Review

I decided to check out Close Range: Wyoming Stories on the recommendation from Stephen King in his memoir, On Writing.  Imagine my surprise when I saw that it included the (very) short story “Brokeback Mountain!”  You know, the source material for the 2006 Academy Award Best Picture nominee.  But, I’ll get more into that later.

 I’d heard good things about the author, Annie Proulx, and wanted to read her work in order to better myself as a writer.  I was totally unfamiliar with any of her writings, so I must say I was more than pleasantly surprised when I found myself absolutely riveted by her short stories.

I didn’t think I was a fan of stories about Wyoming and ranchers, but Proulx didn’t seem to care.  Each and every story in this collection drew me in and fascinated me.  As clichéd as it sounds, her characters are truly masterful.  Like in the land of the living, they are all flawed; they made terrible mistakes, and then they had to learn to live (and die) with the repercussions.  Her characters defy stereotyping, though they all had one thing in common-they were tough.  Each and every one of them was a product of the land they lived on, and so they had to be tough if they were to survive.  Some were tougher than others, and some survived better than others. 

Close Range worked for me because it disturbed me.  I don’t mean that in a negative way at all.  I mean that these stories stayed with me long after I read them.  They almost haunted me.  They reminded me just how glorious and monstrous it is to be human, especially when you have to work yourself to the bone in order to endure.

Though Proulx has an unorthodox writing style that can sometimes be a little difficult to read, I find her completely in touch with what it is to be a human being and her realistic depiction of such, especially of those living on the ranches of Wyoming, is the work of a person who truly has an adroit grasp on her craft.

So it’s hard to write this review without acknowledging the short story found in this collection, “Brokeback Mountain.”  I think it’s important to establish the fact that I am not an advocate of homosexuality; however, I also don’t believe homosexuality warrants discrimination and certainly not hate crimes.  That being said, the short story, “Brokeback Mountain,” like all the other stories in Close Range, is truly a heartbreaking account about two human beings told in such a manner that it will resonate with you no matter what your personal beliefs.  I’ll leave it up to you to determine if these men were in love with one another, but it is certainly a story of longing, confusion, denial, and terrible loss.  In other words, it captures aspects of the emotional essence of the human condition, albeit in a controversial and unsettling fashion.  That is the power of Proulx.

I look forward to reading more of her works.

Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 by Annie Proulx – A Book Review

Though this is only the second book I’ve read by Annie Proulx, I can tell that her style and voice will keep me coming back for more and more of her work.  Proulx blends the utterly fantastic with the totally mundane so seamlessly that she can pass virtually anything off in her writing and you’ll accept it as commonplace. 

Her characters seem completely well rounded in this collection, even when the stories are brief, and she compels you to care about them, though many of them are not what I would describe as “likable.” 

Just as she describes the state, her stories seem to be about nothing particularly special, yet you find yourself drawn into them and fascinated by their potential.  Proulx does not disappoint.

The Shipping News by Annie Proulx – A Book Review

This novel won the Pulitzer Prize, so it was obviously held in high esteem by those far wiser than myself.  And I have to admit that I enjoyed it very much. 

Proulx’s a rather fascinating writer.  I’ve read a few of her books now, and I have to say that no two of them struck me as the same.  Her tones, her themes, even her style shifts depending on the subject.  I find this quite commendable.

In The Shipping News, Proulx gives us a story about a suppressed man who moves to Newfoundland with his daughters and aunt.  His lineage originates from that area, and so, in a sense, it was something of a homecoming for him.  He would later find his name was not highly thought of, however.  The story progresses as he deals with acclimating to his new home and job, getting to know his aunt and the indigenous people, and helping to start over with his daughters as they get over the tragedy (or blessing) that prompted them to seek a change in setting.

I suppose this book is an exploration of everyday life within a land that is rarely written about in fiction.  Proulx herself spends much time in Newfoundland, so if anyone were to be an expert to write on it, it would certainly be her.  There is no grand climax, no awe-inspiring resolution.  However, her ending made me smile and instigated a sense of hope for both the people of her story and me.  Perhaps that is the most striking way to conclude a story reflecting true life. 

Much like the people found within her story, her style of writing is very direct, plain, and utterly potent.  At times she drove me insane as she wrote fragment after fragment and ignored basic rules of grammar.  But, the execution proved effective and, by the end of the novel, her style seemed completely appropriate.

I’m guessing it was her study on human emotions and life in Newfoundland, as well as her daringness with language, that brought her the honor of the Pulitzer Prize.  If nothing else, though, I found it insightful and enjoyable, and you can’t ask for much more than that.

That Old Ace In the Hole by Annie Proulx – A Book Review

Proulx has once again given us a captivating story about the most mundane and unexceptional set of circumstances imaginable. 

In this story we have Bob Dollar, a young man who has lived much of his life without purpose, suddenly hired by Global Pork Rind to scout out possible hog farm locations in the Texas Panhandle.  Though he doesn’t care one iota about the hog farming industry and he personally thinks that hog farms ruin the quality of life wherever they spring up, he is determined to complete his job because so many people in his past have left things unfinished.  Little did he know that in investigating the lands and people he hopes will sell out, he would build relationships with both not easily set aside.

Though Proulx gives us a story devoid of any major action or catastrophe, she nails every aspect of what it means to be a human with inexplicable emotions and passions, and I can only imagine that if I were to visit the Texas Panhandle, the people from this novel would likely be who I would meet.

Her usual aptitude for ingenuous dialogue, wit, and charm exude from the pages of this work.  Her characters, as easy to imagine as your next-door neighbor, grow on you despite all their quirks and shortcomings (perhaps also like your next-door neighbor).  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this novel and suspect that you will as well.

Heart Songs and Other Stories by Annie Proulx – A Book Review

One thing you must realize about Annie Proulx-she pulls no punches.  Heart Songs and Other Stories is absolutely no exception to the rule.

In this collection of short stories, Proulx give us characters that are not terribly intelligent, sophisticated, attractive, or even likable.  But, what they are is real.  We’ve all met at least one of the characters in this book, and that’s the magic of Proulx’s writing.  She’s not interested in creating a romantic hero; she’s interested in telling real stories about real people … who happen to be fictional.  And, like so many of us, they have moments that aren’t exactly shining.

I’ve read quite a bit of Proulx, and this book is one of her earlier efforts.  It’s not quite as stylistically refined as her later work, but it is still a magnificent read.  The fact she is absolutely so willing to spit in beauty’s face makes her no-nonsense stories  and rough and tumble characters all the more beautiful.

If you haven’t read any Proulx yet, you really should.