It’s easy to link author Annie Proulx with quintessential American Realism. She’s writing about Wyoming for Pete’s sake, and regular, if not downright poor people. You can’t get much realistic-er than that.
Or can you?
Proulx’s writing is dense, elegiac, funny, perverse, and strange. I’ve discussed the notion of the queer in my Bruno Schulz post from this blog, and I think that the concept applies to this very different author as well.
Sure, we know all about Ennis and Jack in “Brokeback Mountain” played in the film version by those hotties Heath (of blessed memory) and Jake. But the rest of the stories in Close Range are no less peculiar, partner. They stress the compulsiveness of desire – whether it’s riding a bull even if it wrecks your body, flying a plane, even if you don’t know how exactly, braving a snowstorm in your 80’s, or –most horrifyingly — murdering women and keeping them in your attic, if that’s your “thang”. In return, nature – usually so beautiful and harmonious and wildly wondrous in American literature (think Laura Ingalls Wilder, think Conrad Richter) — is more like a runaway character from Jean Paul Sartre in Proulx’s stories. Nature doesn’t care or is overtly hostile to these tiny obsessed humans darting about the gigantic landscape. Nature may be gorgeous, but it is NOT us.
This is not Wordsworth, folks, but Romanticism turned on its head. Proulx suggests that Nature can’t fulfill us, and we can’ t bond with it, as the heroine of “The Bunchgrass edge of the World” notes:
“After supper in her room, she wishes for a ray gun to erase the brilliant needles of light from the isolate highway, silence the dull humming like bees in a high may bush. She wanted the cows to lie down and die, hoed for a tornado, the Second Coming, violent men in suits driving a fast car into the yard….”
Ottaline – one of Proulx’s smarter heroes – knows that nature can’t help her. She has sf/disaster movie dreams instead. Likewise Ennis and Jack discover that while nature seems empty – allowing them apparent invisibility to fuck each other outside – human eyes are watching them all the time through binoculars. Nature only appears to free us up.
So I’m inducting Annie Proulx into the Magically Real Club., whether she likes it or not. In other words, she’s got more in common with Georgis O’Keefe than with Ansel Adams. Just sayin”.
whadda y’all think?
2 thoughts on “Annie Proulx’s queer wyomingans and the non-realistic”
Hear, hear! A sound decision when one considers the expanse of the Wyoming west against those puny humans. I found myself reanalyzing Proulx’s The Shipping News, her most popular work, for evidence of the same relationship, and although nature plays a role in that novel, I didn’t immediately see it.
But I dredged up an old paper I wrote on that book. Here’s part of the first paragraph: Desperation Bay. Bad Fortune. Capsize Cove. Never Once. Lost All Hope. Go Aground. The place names Annie Proulx fabricates for her Newfoundland novel, The Shipping News, establish a mood of despair for her characters. And throughout the book she assails readers with references to an almost hopeless economic situation exacerbated by distant government ineptitude, and a local culture of car and boat wrecks, people lost at sea, rampant sexual deviance, petty crime—the whole setting made virtually unbearable by the roaring gales and treacherous ice of sub-Arctic weather that rages nine months a year. But within this setting of gloom and doom Proulx finds something to praise in the perseverance of the Newfies who choose not to flee to warmer climates, and particularly in her hero, Quoyle, who leaves an ugly existence in America to settle in this difficult land and raise his children among the hardy souls.
Sure sounds similar to me. Thanks for getting me to think about this.
Thanks Joe. I’m a big fan of THE SHIPPING NEWS where the focus is more on people than on Nature. But as you point out, Nature is THERE all right, as an indifferent antagonist to the strange goings on. Compulsions are at work there too; those drives are just more manifest in the short stories. Thanks again for commenting.