Saturday, July 13, 2013

Summer reading: Annie Proulx

Sunglasses - Primark    |    Red headscarf - Charity shop    |    Sandals -

Phew, it's been hot today! I was thinking about it and this must be the hottest weather I have ever experienced in England. I'm not much of a sunbather, plus I'm very pale and don't really tan, but I have been slathering on the factor-50 and sitting out on the patio for an hour or so every afternoon with my book.

Because I've been doing an English degree for the last three years, I haven't had a huge amount of freedom with what I could read, usually having a long reading list of specific books to get through at all times. So now that I've finished I don't quite know where to begin again, and my interests have changed too, so I eased myself in with Annie Proulx's collection of short stories Bad Dirt. It had been on my shelf for a long time so I thought it was finally time to read it.

Proulx is a pretty well-known modern writer - she's published a number of novels and short stories, won the Pulitzer Prize and wrote 'Brokeback Mountain' which of course became a film - and her style is just beautiful. All the stories in Bad Dirt are set in Wyoming, a place that I know almost nothing about, and characters recur in different stories and interact with other characters so you get a sense of the communities in these sparse little towns. Although it's not description-heavy, the landscape really comes across in the language, especially the difficulties of living in such a rugged, bare and lonely environment.

I found this photo to give you some idea (from here

Most of the characters are men - quirky, dour and often not particularly likeable. A lot of them work with the land in some way, as ranchers or game wardens and I think it's the connection between people and place that really drew me into these stories (I'm always really interested in why people are living where they do and the things that happened to them that meant they have ended up here or there). I also love the names Proulx gives her characters: Creel Zmundzinski, Gilbert Wolfscale, Fiesta Punch... Often, stories incorporate generations of the same family, so almost a hundred years is covered over a few pages. Proulx manages this really deftly though, you never feel lost or swamped and her style is really breathtaking. One of the reviews inside the cover says that Proulx manages to be 'humorous and existentially black at the same time' and I think this sums up her style pretty damn accurately. There are some lovely bizarre, witty moments (a sinkhole in a tarmac car park that kills unsuspecting game poachers, for example) but ultimately the stories are of people struggling, against each other, against their environment, against the stranglehold the government invariably has them in, but at the same time they are not asking for the reader's pity, and would most likely throw it right back if it was offered.

I will admit it's probably not the most apt book to be reading on a sunny weekend during a British heatwave, but my tastes are probably slightly odd. It is a really beautifully written collection though, and I'd urge anyone interested in short stories or contemporary American fiction to look it up.

Song of the day: Hot Chip - 'I Feel Better'

What are you up to this sunny weekend?

P.S. On a completely different note, I've just discovered that ASOS now stock Monki! Might have to indulge soon...

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