Today’s Wordsmith: Annie Proulx
She has been awarded countless honors and prizes for her strangely beautiful prose – lines that flow like oil over glass yet somehow still succeed in capturing some of the hardest situations and emotions for some of the most forceful and obdurate characters in modern literature. She was awarded the Pulitzer Prize in 1994 for her resplendent novel, The Shipping News. While I consider all of her works notable, the ones that stand out the most are Accordion Crimes, Close Range (her first book of short stories focusing on the raw, harsh life of Wyoming ranchers and featuring the wonderful-and-let-no-one-tell-you-different final story, “Brokeback Mountain”), and Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2.
If you are interested in reading prose that very few writers today can match in talent and gravity (of the authors I read, only Marilynne Robinson and Michael Chabon come to mind as possible equals), I suggest you begin with the Pulitzer Prize-winner, The Shipping News. Do yourself a favor, though; read the book. The movie is three stars at best, but Proulx’s delicately layered narrative will captivate you in ways few novels can. When you’ve finished that and if you think you’ve got a strong stomach when it comes to digesting depraved characters, Close Range is one of the greatest collections of short stories I have read in recent years (Proulx does with Wyoming what Flannery O’Connor did with the South). Here’s a sample from “A Lonely Coast”:
You ever see a house burning up in the night, way to hell and gone out there on the plains? Nothing but blackness and your headlights cutting a little wedge into it, could be the middle of the ocean for all you can see. And in that big dark a crown of flame the size of your thumbnail trembles. You’ll drive for an hour seeing it until it burns out or you do, until you pull off the road to close your eyes or look up at sky punched with bullet holes. And you might think about the people in the burning house, see them trying for the stairs, but mostly you don’t give a damn. They are too far away, like everything else.
The year I lived in that junk trailer in the Crazy Woman Creek drainage I thought Josanna Skiles was like that, the house on fire in the night that you could only watch.