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.
Annie Proulx’s “Job History” is just what the title says it is. Set in and around Unique, Wyoming, the story of Leeland Lee’s various jobs and job losses is somewhat unique. The story is told almost as a series of lists with the exception of incredible paragraphs detailing Leeland’s physical appearance as a child or the same type of detail describing Leeland’s wife, Lori.
It’s easy to read this story with the mindset that Leeland and his family have incredibly bad luck as his job history is quite long and varied. Or with the idea that the setting is simply economically depressed and this is what happens in these places. This isn’t the first time that Proulx has equated Wyoming with bad luck. Poor Mero in “The Half-Skinned Steer” has great luck outside of his home state only for the bad luck to return as he makes his way back.
In spite of the continuous job changes, the story also tells of a resilience that keeps going through the bad times. Leeland may not be the most pleasant of characters, but I like him because he never gives up.
At a page and a half, Annie Proulx’s story “55 Miles to the Gas Pump” is even shorter than yesterday’s story “The Blood Bay”. It also has a comedic tone, and while dark, it’s more tongue-in-cheek. In half a paragraph, Proulx manages to muster up more suspense than some authors can in an entire novel. For a few seconds, the reader wonders what is in the attic that Rancher Croom keeps locked from Mrs. Croom. The answer might come as a shock to the reader but not to Mrs. Croom.
The story has nothing to do with a gas pump but everything to do with people who live isolated from other people. As Proulx puts it at the end of the story:
When you live a long way out you make your own fun.
That night he froze to death on Powder River’s bitter west bank, that stream of famous dimensions and direction – an inch deep, a mile wide and she flows uphill from Texas.
Annie Proulx’s “The Blood Bay”, set in the 1880’s, begins with a group of cowboys stumbling across a man who has frozen to death in the Wyoming winter. Any story that has someone freezing to death is going to remind me of Jack London; however, so far, Proulx’s writing brings to mind London in theme and style, also. In this story, the man who dies alone is only the catalyst for a very short and darkly comic tale.
One of the cowboys takes a liking to the dead man’s boots and his grisly manner of removing them as well as his encounter with the horse that gives the story its title sets the stage for a great punchline. Just as in some of London’s stories, the fun and games inside a warm cabin provide a stark contrast to the wicked cold outdoors.
I would recommend this story to anyone wanting a quick introduction to Proulx’s work.
A few weeks ago in my Deal Me In 2015 short story project, I read Annie Proulx’s story “The Half-Skinned Steer”. I found it intriguing and decided to read a few more of her stories that I’ll be posting about this week. For the source of my stories, I went to Proulx’s collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories in which “The Half-Skinned Steer” is included.
For Day 1 of Annie Proulx week, I read “The Mud Below”. This story goes into the world of rodeos – a world with which I confess I am not familiar. But the details of Diamond Felts career and his rise to fame pulls in the reader whether they know anything about riding bulls or not.
Diamond Felts, a rugged individual, only finds purpose in life from riding a bull and, ultimately, the bull doesn’t give real meaning to him. A nagging question from his childhood hides behind all of Felts’ life. In a heart-breaking conversation with his mother, even she won’t give him the answer he wants.
Proulx’s words put so much beauty into Felts’ sadness and loneliness, it could take the reader’s breath away:
…because he knew he was getting down the page and into the fine print of this way of living. There was nobody in his life to slow him down with love. Sometimes riding the bull was the least part of it, but only the turbulent ride gave him the indescribable rush, shot him mainline with crazy-ass elation. In the arena everything was real because none of it was real except the chance to get dead. The charged bolt came, he thought, because he wasn’t. All around him wild things were falling to earth.