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.

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This Is Nothing To Joke About

Note: Originally Published 8-1-06

First and foremost, if you are not a fan of Batman Begins or, more specifically, Batman, than this little article will not interest you in the least.  However, if you are a Bat-Fan, then you must read on.

It has been confirmed by Warner Brothers that Heath Ledger will play the role of the Joker in the sequel to Batman Begins, called The Dark Knight.  Now, a lot of the fanboys have already started with the “Brokeback Joker” tirades and are dismissing Ledger as a respectable Joker.  I couldn’t disagree more.

First of all, highly respected filmmaker and director Ang Lee hired Ledger to star in Brokeback Mountain, a very serious drama that required real courage to take part in.  Second of all, Ledger has had some nice moments in his acting career thus far.  For instance, I thought he was very good in The Patriot, and though it was a comedy, I also thought he did a nice job in Ten Things I Hate About You.  And yet, I will admit it, he’s had some flops as well.  But, you have to think, if Christopher Nolan, the director of Batman Begins and its follow-up, has faith in Heath Ledger, than shouldn’t we as well?  After all, he brought in Christian Bale, someone I never would have dreamed of, and Bale brought an intensity to Batman never realized on film.  He brought in Cillian Murphy, a truly creepy villain as the Scarecrow, and need I mention all the big names he brought in to play minor roles.  Nolan is respected and Nolan is intelligent.  He knows what he’s doing.

I know what you’re thinking, you’re thinking, “But Scott William Foley, Ledger will never be able to out-do Jack Nicholson’s hilarity as the Joker!”  You’re right.  You’re exactly right.  You’re right because Jack Nicholson, as awesome as he was, was playing Jack Nicholson.  You looked at the screen and you didn’t see the Joker, you saw Jack Nicholson in white make-up.  And what was fine!  He rocked!  I loved his Joker.

However, you want to realize that what makes the Joker work is not his flamboyancy, it’s his utter and psychotic maliciousness.  The Joker is a mass murderer.  The Joker is sick and twisted, he is terrifying, remorseless.  Imagine a Joker who wasn’t funny at all.  Imagine simply a psycho who looks like a joker from your deck of cards.  Imagine the intensity required for that sort of Joker.  I think Ledger can pull it off.

I will now undo all of my previous arguments by saying that I still wanted Crispin Glover to get the role.