Bird Cloud: A Memoir Hardcover – Jan 4 2011
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“Bird Cloud shows the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author at her best... Bird Cloud is part personal memoir, part construction adventure, part diary of noble animals, but all of it comes together like the ingredients of a glorious meal. The reader is lucky to be invited to her table.”—San Francisco Chronicle
“Proulx’s masterly prose coupled with her obsessive research on history, ecology, and genealogy sustains the reader. . .every nugget she offers up is pure gold.”--O, The Oprah Magazine
“With a scientist’s exactitude, an artist’s attunement to beauty, and a storyteller’s enchantment, Proulx takes us through the building of a home, intimacy with place, and reclamation of the past.”--Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)
“Proulx [is] the laureate of the Wyoming outback and the Canadian shore… Her depictions of the Wyoming landscape in all its moods are in keeping with the best of the Western nature-writing tradition, full of celebration and evocation.”—Kirkus (starred review)
About the Author
Annie Proulx is the author of eight books, including the novel The Shipping News and the story collection
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Take note of the book's cover, a photograph well-selected by Proulx herself, for it is a true harbinger of what the 234 pages inside will bring. It is not a mistake that you cannot see the house whose three-year construction (2004-2006) some publicity material and some reviews mistakenly suggest is the main subject of the book. You are right to imagine the sky and the rangeland extending to the horizon hold multitudes.
"Bird Cloud" is not a Wyoming version of "House," Tracy Kidder's 1985 book that meticulously recounted the planning, design and construction of a New England custom home. Proulx offers us no blueprints, no floor plans, no budget details, no additional photos. Yes, she parcels out a few practical "how-to's" and a selection of vignettes (mostly about construction snafus and disappointments), but the house-related material occupies less than half of the book's content.
The building is not where Proulx fixes her emotional energy. Her heart lies elsewhere: in side-tales about her family's genealogy; in stories of the "rapacity and venal grasping" of all too many of Wyoming's founders; in the terrible legacy of insults to the land, its game animals, its Indian inhabitants; in a child-like delight she takes in the "archeological possibilities" of her 640 acres; and in her experience of the raw power of nature at 7000 feet above sea level, where hurricane-force winds and isolation-inducing snowdrifts are routine. The book's emotional apogee is the final, and longest, chapter -- a narrative tracing an arc of 12 months through the lives of the site's abundant bird life. In these pages Proulx, an amateur as a birder but first-rate as a raconteur, unleashes a warm observational humor.
The book is vulnerable to two criticisms. One is that "Bird Cloud" lacks an overarching theme. It hosts lots of little stories but does not have a big story, and readers who demand a pointedly consistent narrative experience may be disappointed. Another criticism is that the book's subtitle -- "a Memoir" -- is misleading. That is true. This is not a "memoir" as that label is understood today, in our era of no-holds-barred confessional outpourings. Anyone expecting Proulx, a famously private author now in her eighth decade, to lay bare the intimacies of her personal diary, to expose her emotional core, or to explain, for example, how her three divorces have shaped the woman she is today, will come away empty-handed. Proulx is one author unlikely to appear on Oprah's couch.
If you see yourself as a potential reader of "Bird Cloud," consider first reading a rare and lengthy interview conducted at her Bird Cloud Ranch, published in the Spring 2009 issue of Paris Review. It is available for free online; just Google the three words, Paris Review Proulx. The interview is a useful companion piece, especially since "Bird Cloud" itself contains surprisingly little material about Proulx's writing habits.
A set of 24 color photos the property appear on the website of photographer Wayne Thom (Google the four words, Wayne Thom Bird Cloud). As of April, 2013, it appears the property is still available for purchase (Google "Bird Cloud Ranch" and Sale).
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