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b o o k r e v ie w s ______ Close Range: Wyoming Stories. By Annie Proulx. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2000. 285 pages, $13.00. Reviewed by H al C rim m el Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, Minnesota Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx’s fifth book, Close Range: Wyoming Stories, is a stunning collection of eleven short stories about the hard edge of Wyoming life. Unlike Gretel Ehrlich’s 1987 collection The Solace of Open Spaces, which pays lyrical tribute to life on the range, the romance of open country does not distract Proulx from her flinty-eyed view of rural Wyoming life. Through the themes of loss, despair, and resilience, Close Range delivers an unsentimental look at people and place that will provoke thoughtful read­ ers at every step. The stories, with their ruinous lust and quick violence, test the reader’s appetite for the grotesque. Proulx’s dark characters are necrophilic ranchers Marti Esplin. BIRD BOOK. 1997. Mixed media. 10" x 7.5". BOOK REVIEWS 3 2 1 and environmentalists who buy underage Indian girls for a weekend of plea­ sure. They are whorish rodeo groupies looking for romance, manipulative tattoo -covered drifters, disfigured exhibitionists, and crude womanizers. Proulx also introduces us to failed entrepreneurs and part-time waitresses, rodeo riders and sheepherders, all trying to wring fulfillment from hardship. Dangerously careless with their lives and those of others, these characters are disturbing yet compelling. “The Mud Below” is a gripping account of the professional rodeo circuit’s abusive grind, with its bone-crushing injuries, “buckle bunnies,” and all-night drives. But it is main character Diamond Felts’s dark compulsion to ride that gives the story its power. Felts is addicted to the rush of bullriding, which shoots him “mainline with crazy-ass elation” (67). Family, friends, security, health—all are sacrificed to the force of this primal god. Felts’s inability to escape his addictions, despite their detrimental effects, suggests the impossibil­ ity of fundamental change. Like those who choose to live in the harsh climate of the Wyoming landscape, the best Felts can do is endure the hand he has dealt himself. This endurance is central to the stories in Close Range. The final selec­ tion, “Brokeback Mountain” is a moving story about surviving loss. First pub­ lished in The New Yorker, where it won an O. Henry Short Story Award, the story begins as a cowboy narrative about tough men, livestock, and the open range. But it quickly develops into a haunting, graphic story of the queer fron­ tier involving an intense sexual affairbetween a “pair ofdeuces going nowhere,” two poor country boys hired on as summer sheepherders (257). The danger of being openly gay in rural Wyoming as well as a conservative upbringing make a life together impossible for the two men. The story traces Ennis and Jack’s secret and ultimately tragic lifelong relationship. Broken but resilient, Ennis realizes enduring is all he has left. “There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can’t fix it you’ve got to stand it,” broods the story’s last line (285). Proulx’s landscapes can be as threatening and surprising as her characters’ lives. She refuses to surrender her descriptions ofplace to romantic stereotypes, preferring to write of “mesas and red buttes piled like meat, humped and homed” (67). Nor is she afraid to look the country straight in the eye. “The Governors of Wyoming” looks past the mountains and bucolic ranches to address environmental problems in the state. The damage includes “the Cave Gulch flare-off in its vast junkyard field, refineries, disturbed land, uranium mines, coal mines, trona mines, pump jacks and drilling rigs, clear-cuts, tank farms, contaminated rivers, pipelines, methanol-processing plants, ruinous dams, the Amoco mess, railroads, all disguised by the deceptively empty land­ scape” (213). No sense of Wyoming’s empty spaces is complete without this knowledge, cautions Proulx. 3 2 2 WAL 3 5 . 3 f a l l 2 0 0 0 Richard Ford’s “Great Falls,” from Rock Springs, his fine 1987 collection of...


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