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unable to tell or understand his own. At the heart of the novel, Sam returns to AustraUa after his marriage fails. At his Uncle Will's nursery, he finds he's not the only one dealing with grief. WUl's lover, BasU, has recently died, m a passage of muted beauty, they set off together to scatter BasU's ashes in the mountains. It's one of the most moving scenes in the novel, though Pierce deUvers many fine moments. To understand how love can be so easüy lost, Sam searches his grandmother's letters, unpublished journals and his own memories. Confronted by mysteries, Sam faces what Robert Penn Warren called "the awful responsibiUty of Time." Like his mother and grandmother, Sam writes of the Blue Mountains, which reverberate through his Ufe and infiltrate his dreams as a place of wallabies, kookaburras and Aborigine myth. Sam finds himseU humbled by Australia's landscape. He comes to understand that the riddles presented by his famtiy are not so different from the riddles he presents to himsetf. Like the women who haunt his memory, Sam is a dreamer and a loner, predisposed to take the same fateful walk as his grandmother down the Giant Stairway. Pierce's lush descriptions capture Sam's romantic yearning: "The sun puUed toward the other part of the world, the part where I was from, but we did not go home. Instead we stayed down in the valley, surrounded by gum trees and mountain ash, by banksia and blackwood, by fan ferns that hung from cliffs Uke delicate paper ornaments. Above us blackbmds flew Uke shadows, across a gray sky. We stayed there well past seven o'clock, the evening chiU making us feel oddly aUve, until moonlight spilled like milk down around us." This novel demonstrates Pierce's gift for poetic imagery and artful metaphors . The novel's final pages take thereaderto surprisingplaces, eschewing a predictable ending. The Australia Stories is an impressive book and hints strongly at future marvels to be expected from Todd James Pierce. (TB) That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx Scribner, 2002, 384 pp., $26 Annie Proulx's fourth novel, That Old Ace in the Hole, takes readers familiar with Proulx's portrayal of Newfoundland (Ui her PuUtzer Prize-winning The Shipping News) to a new address—this time to the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles. Bob Dollar, the young and seemingly average protagonist from Denver, is a wet-behind-the-ears graduate who takes a job as a location scout for a hog-farm industry, Global Pork Rind. It is up to Bob to find decent land for the corporation to convert mto hog farms, and to try to convince the locals that doing so is in their best interests. In contrast to wide-eyed and eager Bob Dollar, the natives of the area are wary and untrusting. In Woolybucket, Texas, Bob finds himseU in the company of the roughest and toughest, with wills of Uon. Under the pretense of scouting for luxury-home developers, Bob rents a bunkhouse from LaVon Frank, a widowed ranch owner who keeps 180 · The Missouri Review two exotic tarantulas as pets. After taking a job at a cafe caUed the Old Dog, Bob is able to communicate with the locals who have spent theU entire Uves in Woolybucket. He hears stories about the old days and learns how the natives feel about corporate hog farms—unreceptive: "'Hog farms create uninhabitable zones just as sure as if land mines was planted there. Does a corporation have any kind a right come into the panhandle and wreck it for the people rooted there?'" While fending off the inquiring letters and phone calls from his employer, Ribeye Cluke, who cares more for the progression of the project than for the livelihood of the inhabitants of a panhandle town, Bob targets Ace Crouch's land for Global Pork Rind and proceeds to convince the older man to sell his property. Bob Dollar is not as strong a protagonist as he might be, though he clearly has a large heart and a simple naïveté. One wants to love him in the same unconditional way one adored...


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pp. 180-181
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