Sunday, November 21, 2010

Redux #39 - "Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3" by Annie Proulx

I always find it more difficult to review books of short stories. I think it's because I'm not sure what to focus on. Should I quickly discuss each story and my reaction? Try to find a common theme and discuss my general impression? It is even a greater challenge today because I already returned the book, so I can't remind myself of the titles or plot of some of the stories. I'm also in a bit of a rush because it's late and I desperately want to catch up on these reviews. Anyway, I've heard a lot about Annie Proulx, I've read "Brokeback Mountain" and seen the movie, and I figured she would be a good author to read. I was reminded of her again and decided to read Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 (2008) when I saw that it was one of the final choices for Denver's book club this year.

Fine Just the Way It Is includes nine different short stories that primarily take place in Wyoming in both the past and present. There are a couple satirical stories that have the devil as the main character, but the rest are hard and brutally honest stories about struggle and survival and life in Wyoming. These stories include: "Family Man," "I've Always Loved This Place," "Them Old Cowboy Songs," "The Sagebrush Kid," "The Great Divide," "Deep-Blood-Greasy-Bowl," "Swamp Mischief," "Testimony of the Donkey," and "Tits-Up in a Ditch."

I guess you could say the common theme in these stories is that life sucks and then you die. Story after story just left me catching my breath in horror. I often read on the bus on the way to work, and I came into work one day freaked out by the image I had in my head of a poor girl who had died in childbirth. And then on the way home, I was able to finish the story, and it just got more disturbing. Annie Proulx's writing is very powerful, though. Her stories are sparse, straightforward, and unsentimental, but they grab your attention and stay with you for a long time. Just thinking back on them to write this review makes me appreciate them more.

Living in Colorado, even though it's not Wyoming, I think I also have an appreciation for the West and the ruggedness that was in each Proulx story. I also recognize Proulx's talent for storytelling. I can't exactly say that Fine Just the Way It Is was an enjoyable read, but I'd recommend it to anyone who can handle the bleakness and sadness that Proulx portrays.

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