Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 Paperback – Oct 11 2005
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From Publishers Weekly
The beautiful and harsh terrain of Wyoming and the tough and often eccentric people who make their lives there are again on display in this collection of stories (a sequel to the much-lauded Close Range: Wyoming Stories). In "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?" Gilbert Wolfscale struggles with drought and debt to hold on to the ranch that has been passed down in his family for generations, driving off his wife and two sons, who have no interest in continuing the legacy. Many old-time ranch owners in this territory are women, and they face similar struggles: in "The Trickle Down Effect," Fiesta Punch hires local ne'er-do-well Deb Sipple for a long-distance hay haul, with disastrous results. Proulx does leaven her tales of hardship and woe with a dry humor, and she doesn't forget to tackle the misguided romance sought by newcomers to the land, as in "Man Crawling Out of Trees," in which a retired couple from the Northeast find that the quiet truce of their marriage can't survive encounters with the resentful locals. While none of the stories in this collection approaches the sweep and wholeness of "Brokeback Mountain" (the standout story from Close Range, and soon to be a major film), and other pieces are little more than whimsical sketches (sometimes with a touch of the magical), they paint a rich, colorful picture of local life.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Pulitzer Prize winner Proulx wrote her first collection of Wyoming stories, Close Range, in 1999. The 11 stories contained here are of a piece with her earlier depictions of a hardscrabble state and its ornery, hard-bitten citizens. It's somewhat difficult to fathom the full nature of Proulx's popularity given her implacable vision of human nature as deeply flawed. In her stories, the humor is mordant, the landscape is crushing, and the people are taciturn. It may be that her odd, vivid language and her idiosyncratic plotting are entertaining enough to distract readers from the bleak subtext. Even when Proulx employs magic realism, as she does in three stories here, there are no happy endings--in "Dump Junk," a rusty old tea kettle, not an exotic lamp, grants its owner's wishes, two of which result in tragic accidents. In "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?" a rancher's steadfast dedication to his property and its exhausting round of chores blinds him to his wife's unhappiness with their life together. In "Man Crawling Out of Trees," a transplanted New York couple is alternately seduced and appalled by the starkly beautiful, alien landscape, which only seems to accelerate the dissolution of their marriage. Proulx's vision, like the Wyoming countryside she so meticulously describes, is unyielding. Joanne Wilkinson
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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A NOVEMBER DAY WYOMING GAME & FISH WARDEN Creel Zmundzinski was making his way down the Pinchbutt drainage through the thickening light of late afternoon. Read the first page
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and Bad Dirt (subtitled "Wyoming Stories 2") is a very worthy
encore. The Close Range stories gave a wonderful flavor to the
rural areas of the state, the people, the land, the warm and the
rough sides, both past and present. Some of the stories were
humorous, others were harrowing, some were a whimsical mix. You'll
find just the same mix (and a bit more) in Bad Dirt. You start off
with a 12-page story about Game & Fish Warden Creel Zmundzinski (who
turns up again in a couple of more stories) that begins in a nice
straightforward fashion, and then takes off into a kind of
humorous Proulx-Stephen King joint venture (or perhaps
Several stories center on the residents and the 3 bars in the tiny
town of Elk City: I very much like reading another of Proulx'
short stories when I feel that I already know the characters well
(one of these is a kind of Proulx-Hiaassen mix involving rental
alligators--it sounds bizarre, but the story works in a truly
The best of the stories is The Wamsutter Wolf, and runs about 35
pages. Buddy Millar lives in a $40/month rental housetrailer
5 miles out from the center of a small boomtown (almost all
trailers). You don't get much for your $40 a month. His only
neighbors live close by in an even grungier trailer--a bully who
beat him up in high school, his wife and passel of grungy young
kids, one of whom is a 4-year-old alcoholic (his father believes
that learning to drink young avoids the problems that come with
learning later). This is a horrifying and harrowing story--
stronger than anything I remember in Close Range. It's very
tough, utterly realistic, and it left me wanting to see it
expanded to about 300 pages as a novel.
Annie Proulx and William Gay (I Hate To See The Evening Sun Go
Down) are the two best short-story writers I've read in many
years--and both write excellent novels as well.
The substantial stories that I enjoyed are: "The Indian Wars Refaught" about a troubled young Sioux woman who reconnects with her sense of identity while sorting archival material related to the battle of Wounded Knee; "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?," about one Wyoming rancher's decline in the face of changing times, a failed marriage, and sons who've gone their own ways; "Man Crawling Out of Trees" about an elderly couple who moved to Wyoming from the East and how each of them responds in radically different ways to the rugged terrain, taciturn populace, and sense of isolation; "The Wamsutter Wolf" in which the human characters are eerily shown to behave according to wolf pack mores. Of all the stories, these four come closest to matching the standard Proulx set for herself with "Brokeback Mountain." Also worth mentioning here is "Dump Junk," a story that interestingly moves beyond Proulx's very grounded sense of reality into the realm of fantasy.
All in all, this is a pretty satisfying collection of stories.
These stories struck me as being more cheeky than the Close Range stories -- not quite as poignant, but more toward the funny side. But the tall-tale, mythical quality is still there, as is the spot-on description of the dusty, harsh, and utterly beautiful star of the book -- Wyoming -- and the dusty, harsh, and utterly beautiful people who dare to call it home. We meet all kinds: crusty ranchers, ex-urbanites, oil and gas workers, mountain men, wildlife agents. Their lives intertwine within and between stories until the whole collection becomes one larger-than-life whole. I got this book from the library, but liked it so much that it might be one that I'll actually add to my collection. I can't recommend it highly enough -- go get it today!
Gaudy colors do not, however, equate to warmth. Proulx's stories are inflated, unfunny jokes and most of her characters are unattractive caricatures bearing improbable names like Fiesta Punch, Reverend Pecker, Suzzy New, Lobett Pulvertoft Thirkill, Mercedes de Silhouette, and Dr. Playfire. The plots go beyond improbable. A game warden discovers a hidden entrance to Hell in a Forest Service parking area and uses it to deal with out-of-state poachers. A red-furred badger tells his cronies that a rancher's wife has fallen in love with him. A bartender imports alligators to defend her vegetable garden from marauding cows. An expatriate makes accidental use of a magic teakettle found when cleaning out her late mother's house.
Despite heavy lardings of fictional biography and gratuitous back-story, the stories in BAD DIRT smell anachronistic. They are the sort of tall tales the denizens of bars like the fictional Pee Wee's in Elk Tooth, Wyoming might tell about their parents or grandparents. Yet Proulx's crusty eccentrics are mostly baby-boomers living in the first decade of the 21st century, not the first half of the 20th.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the best story in the collection, "Man Crawling Out Of Trees" concerns transplanted easterners, like Proulx herself, learning to cope with life in Wyoming. In the end, one of them flees back to New York. Perhaps BAD DIRT is meant to be Proulx's exit line.