With “People In Hell Just Want a Drink of Water”, Annie Proulx puts her spin on the villagers vs. the monster story similar to “Beauty and the Beast” – although there really isn’t a Beauty in this story and perhaps that’s why things don’t turn out quite as well.
The villagers take the form of Ice Dunmire and his eight sons. They grow up ranching and become good ranchers. – to the point that ranching becomes the way of their world and they automatically assume it should be the way of everyone else’s world. Meanwhile, in the same small Wyoming town, Ras Tinsley grows up with a different mindset:
…he threw the weight of his mind in random directions as if the practical problems of life were not to be resolved but teased as a kitten is by a broom straw.
A tragic car accident leaves Ras horribly disfigured in a Beast-like fashion. Because he frightens the townspeople, the Dunmires take things into their own hands and the manner in which this conflict ends puts this story firmly in that pesky “disturbing” category.
The significance of the title could make a good discussion as it is not actually referenced in the story. While I have my ideas about it, I don’t want to ruin the story for others.