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Close Range: Wyoming Stories by Annie Proulx Scribner, 1999, 283 pp., $25 Having established herself as a styUst and storyteUer in her three novels, having won both the National Book Award and the PuUtzer Prize, what more is there for Proulx to do? In Close Range, she returns to the short story, adding to her repertoire a new breed of characters in an unforgiving land. As in her previous work, landscape infuses Proulx's fiction. The eleven stories in Close Range depict Wyoming natives struggling against brutal conditions, not the least of them the wild Wyoming plains. Fans will recognize the tight-knit sentences and perfectly placed ironic detaUs as Proulx trademarks: When a fire in "Job Description" causes an explosion inside an old house, Proulx tells readers, "an object flies out of the house and strikes the fire engine hood. It is a Nintendo player and not even charred." Her matter-of-fact voice is perfectly suited to her vision of the world as a place of ironies and startling hardships. Proulx's appreciation of Wyoming is obvious in her descriptions. It is a land whose winters are cold enough to freeze solid a "somewhat vain" cowboy who splurges on fancy boots instead of coat and gloves. In "People in Hell Just Want a Glass of Water," the country is "indigo jags of mountain , grassy plain everlasting, tumbled stones like fallen cities, the flaring roll of sky." This vastness of the land inspires loneliness in its people. The aptly titled "The Lonely Coasf teUs of small-town women who riotously consult the personals. In "The Bunchgrass Edge of the World," the protagonist , OttaUne, is so desperate for human contact that she uses a scanner to Usten in on cell-phone conversations. Later, she engages in conversation with a rusted-out tractor . Relationships that do evolve are tough, and tough to navigate. An ex-husband shoots out his adulterous former wife's tires; a love affair between two cowboys ends in the murder of one; a married man visits a young Indian prostitute. In "The Bunchgrass Edge of the World," seventy-one-year-old Old Red attacks his son Aladdin with, "Not too swift, are you? Not too smart . . . How you got a woman a marry you I don't know. You must a got a shotgun on her." The angry son retaUates by chasing down his father and pelting him with stones and other handy sharp objects. Old Red surrenders, but not before an indignant, "I made this ranch and I made you." For Old Red, this simple fact of blood relationship justifies his nastiness. Perhaps what makes the book so enjoyable is Proulx's abUity to craft and deliver a story. "The HalfSkinned Steer" foUows the life of a retired rancher who returns to his childhood ranch only to die after a series of ironic twists. Each event is timed perfectly; the story unfolds without a hitch. For Proulx's characters life is invariably a struggle. For Proulx the author, telling their stories seems to come a Uttle more easUy. Close Range: Wyoming Stories is an admirable addition to her growing body of critically acclaimed work. (KD) 220 ยท The Missouri Review ...


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