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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 The Shipping News's leading man, Quoyle. But the story in That Old Ace strays from Bob Dollar's mission and spends many chapters telling the stories of the locals he meets, with their quirky habits and cartoon-character names (Rope Butt, JUn Skin, LUlian LUUan, etc.). The reader learns about Bob's past through a series of randomly placed vignettes that detaU, among other things, the inexplicable disappearance of his parents in Alaska when he was a small child, his relationship with his childhood friend, the ex-con Orlando, and his guardian uncle's fascination—one the uncle shares with his lover—with Bakelite products. The stories the locals of Woolybucket have to tell are often more interesting than Bob Dollar. And, as always with her work, Proulx's descriptions of the land are breathtaking . Take this, for example: "And it was crazy country too, some of the flattest terrain on earth, tractor -chewed and rectangled, rugged breaks and plunging canyons, sinister clouds too big to see in one look, rusty rivers, bone white roads and red grass—the oddly named bluestem." One walks away from the novel feeling as if the landscape were the central character—more so than Bob Dollar. Unfortunately, however, while this kind of description takes the reader to awesome heights, the central plot and characters of the story faU almost as flat as the Texas landscape Proulx so wonderfuUy describes. (EP) The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body by Alberto Ríos Copper Canyon Press, 2002, 107 pp., $14 The Smallest Muscle in the Human Body (2002) is Alberto Rios's most recent book of award-winning poetry, foUowing Teodoro Luna's Two Kisses (1990), The Lime Orchard Woman (1988), Five Indiscretions (1985) and Whispering to Fool the Wind (1982). Ríos has also published three shortstory coUections and a memoir about growing up on the border between Arizona and Mexico. In his newest book, Rios's narrator moves from pubUc poems that celebrate family and community to The Missouri Review · 181 intimate poems that speak privately to a lover: "Ui late summer I made my way m love toward you"; "As you sighed, I was drinking/A glass of ice water"; "The lines beneath your eyes,/Everywhere in the fold of my elbows." It is significant that these intensely personal poems are placed squarely in the center, or heart, of the book. The narrator must work his way from the communal to the primal, secret place that harbors intense desire. Infused with love's intensity, the narrator's senses are more acute. Through his eyes, the world appears altered, particularly the natural world we see foUowing the love poems, as the narrator welcomes a refreshingly unfamiliar vista: "The sudden angle of beginning ." From this new perspective, he notices that oranges and grapefruits are huddled birds in trees, and the common leaf of a shamel ash is uncommonly lovely. With vision honed by passion, the narrator observes what is often missed: hungry bears who "thin themselves into the brush, black and invisible," gray dogs who are "two thin blurs/ On a high desert canvas," the elusive coyote, "grizzly...


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pp. 181-182
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