Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2

( 3 )

Overview

Annie Proulx's new collection is peopled by characters who struggle with circumstances beyond their control. Born to ranching, drawn to it, or desperate to get out, they inhabit worlds that are isolated and often dangerous. Trouble comes at them from unexpected angles, and they drive themselves through it, hardheaded and resourceful. No one writes better than Proulx about the American west and about lives that may no longer be viable. This is a stunning collection by one of the most vivid and exhilarating writers...

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Overview

Annie Proulx's new collection is peopled by characters who struggle with circumstances beyond their control. Born to ranching, drawn to it, or desperate to get out, they inhabit worlds that are isolated and often dangerous. Trouble comes at them from unexpected angles, and they drive themselves through it, hardheaded and resourceful. No one writes better than Proulx about the American west and about lives that may no longer be viable. This is a stunning collection by one of the most vivid and exhilarating writers of our time.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"Proulx renews the Western tradition of the short story as the tall tale....[She] does a matchless job of summing up the human comedy of the modern West."
Time

"Like Flannery O'Connor and William Faulkner, Proulx has found a tone and style of delivery that allow her to be humorous and existentially black at the same time. No other writer in America gets away with this combination."
Denver Post

"A masterpiece."
People

"Annie Proulx is a genuine character — a true original. She has a shrewd understanding of people, a strong feeling for landscape...and a wry sense of humor rather like Mark Twain's."
Los Angeles Times

Publishers Weekly
The beautiful and harsh terrain of Wyoming and the tough and often eccentric people who make their lives there are again on display in this collection of stories (a sequel to the much-lauded Close Range: Wyoming Stories). In "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?" Gilbert Wolfscale struggles with drought and debt to hold on to the ranch that has been passed down in his family for generations, driving off his wife and two sons, who have no interest in continuing the legacy. Many old-time ranch owners in this territory are women, and they face similar struggles: in "The Trickle Down Effect," Fiesta Punch hires local ne'er-do-well Deb Sipple for a long-distance hay haul, with disastrous results. Proulx does leaven her tales of hardship and woe with a dry humor, and she doesn't forget to tackle the misguided romance sought by newcomers to the land, as in "Man Crawling Out of Trees," in which a retired couple from the Northeast find that the quiet truce of their marriage can't survive encounters with the resentful locals. While none of the stories in this collection approaches the sweep and wholeness of "Brokeback Mountain" (the standout story from Close Range, and soon to be a major film), and other pieces are little more than whimsical sketches (sometimes with a touch of the magical), they paint a rich, colorful picture of local life. Agent, Liz Darhansoff. (Nov. 30) Forecast: Though this doesn't pack the same punch as the first collection and a few fans may drift away, Proulx should pick up new readers if the Brokeback Mountain movie does well. Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Pulitzer Prize winner Proulx offers a sequel to her Close Range: Wyoming Stories. Elk Tooth dwellers figure prominently-characters "broke, proud, ingenious, and setting heels against civilized society's pull." In "Hell Hole," Wyoming Game and Fish Warden Creel Zmundzinski accidentally finds a portal to hell on the land he patrols, handy for the disposal of poachers and hence a way to save himself a lot of tedious paperwork. In "Florida Rental," Amanda Gribb finds a radical solution to the problem of a ruthless rancher who has turned his cattle onto her land for grazing. Other, longer stories feature people with their broken homes and broken hearts littering the state, e.g., "Men Crawling Out of Trees," in which Northeasterners Mitchell and Eugenie experience the unraveling of their complicated marriage in the stripped-bare environment of Wyoming. This poignant and often humorous collection is packed with well-drawn characters that linger in the mind and heart. As expected, the Wyoming landscape is the enduring character in each story, silently wielding its magical and brutal power. Highly recommended for all public libraries.-Jyna Scheeren, Troy P.L., NY Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The much-honored author tightens her grip on the laureateship of western working-class America in this follow-up to Close Range: Wyoming Stories 1 (1999). Here, again, Proulx limns the harshness of life in Wyoming (mainly in the mountain hamlet of Elk Tooth, site of three thriving saloons) in 11 unsparingly realistic stories. One of them, for instance, chronicles an arty New York couple's eventual failure to adapt to the rugged surroundings they'd romanticized ("Man Crawling Out of Trees"); another depicts the renewed enmity between long-estranged siblings as they settle their recently deceased centenarian parents' affairs ("Dump Junk"), rekindling unwelcome memories of "hard years . . . with their entanglement of emotional and money problems, vexing questions about the cosmos, the hereafter, the right way of things, and. . . the slow, wretched betrayals of the flesh." Proulx's genius for grim humor glows in wry tales about a beard-growing competition ("The Contest"), a geological malfunction that gives infernal aid to an overworked game-and-fish warden ("The Hellhole"), an ornery barmaid who deals with cattle illegally grazing her land by importing distinctly nonindigenous fellow critters ("Florida Rental")-and even in the middling "Summer of the Hot Tubs" (predictably anecdotal, though it does make you wish Proulx had included her recipe for "son of a bitch stew"). Comparisons to Mark Twain are inevitable, but Proulx's wiry sentences have more of the snap and crackle of vintage Ambrose Bierce, and the writer she really resembles most is Flannery O'Connor, as evidenced best in richly detailed accounts of a luckless drifter's encounter with a violent white-trash "family" ("The WamsutterWolf"); of a young part-Sioux woman's accidental discovery of a prosperous white family's appropriation of her heritage ("The Indian Wars Refought"); and of a stubborn rancher who long outlives the wild old days, his youth, and all the opportunities he failed to grasp. One of our best writers gives us her best book. Agent: Liz Darhansoff/Darhansoff, Verrill, Feldman
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780743260145
  • Publisher: Scribner
  • Publication date: 9/20/2005
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 240
  • Sales rank: 706,870
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author

Annie Proulx is the author of eight books, including the novel The Shipping News and the story collection Close Range. Her many honors include a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and a PEN/Faulkner award. Her story “Brokeback Mountain,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Her most recent book is Fine Just the Way It Is. She lives in Wyoming.

Biography

Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx did not set out to be a writer. She studied history in school, acquiring both her bachelor's and her master's degrees and abandoning her doctorate only in the face of a pessimistic job market. Something of a free spirit, she married and divorced three times and ended up raising three sons and a daughter single-handedly. She settled in rural Vermont, living in a succession of small towns where she worked as a freelance journalist and spent her free time in the great outdoors, hunting, fishing, and canoeing.

Although she wrote prolifically, most of Proulx's early work was nonfiction. She penned articles on weather, farming, and construction, and contracted for a series of rural "how tos" for magazines like Yankee and Organic Gardening. She also founded the Vershire Behind the Times, a monthly newspaper filled with colorful features and vignettes of small-town Vermont life. All this left little time for fiction, but she averaged a couple of stories a year, nearly all of which were accepted for publication.

Prominent credits in two editions of Best American Short Stories led to the publication in 1988 of Heart Songs and Other Stories, a first collection of Proulx's short fiction. Set in blue-collar New England, these "perfectly pitched stories of mysterious revenges and satisfactions" (the Guardian) received rapturous reviews.

With the encouragement of her publisher, Proulx released her first novel in 1992. The story of a fractured New England farm family, Postcards went on to win the PEN/Faulkner Award for fiction. She scored an even greater success the following year when her darkly comic Newfoundland set piece The Shipping News scooped both the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize. One year before her 60th birthday, Proulx had become an authentic literary celebrity.

Since then, the author has alternated between short and long fiction, garnering numerous accolades and honors along the way. Giving the lie to the literary adage "write what you know," her curiosity has led her into interesting, unfamiliar territory: Before writing The Shipping News, she made more than seven extended trips to Newfoundland, immersing herself in the culture and speech of its inhabitants; similarly, she weaved staggering amounts of musical arcana into her 1996 novel Accordion Crimes. She is known for her keen powers of observation—passed on, she says, from her mother, an artist and avid naturalist—and for her painstaking research, a holdover from her student days.

In 1994, Proulx left Vermont for the wide open spaces of Wyoming—a move that inspired several memorable short stories, including the O. Henry Award winner "Brokeback Mountain." First published in The New Yorker and included in the 1999 collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories, this tale of a doomed love affair between two Wyoming cowboys captured the public imagination when it was turned into an Oscar-winning 2005 film by director Ang Lee.

Lionized by most critics, Proulx is, nevertheless, not without her detractors. Indeed, her terse prose, eccentric characters, startling descriptions, and stylistic idiosyncrasies (run-on sentences followed by sentence fragments) are not the literary purist's cup of tea. But few writers can match her brilliance at manipulating language, evoking place and landscape, or weaving together an utterly mesmerizing story with style and grace.

Good To Know

Proulx was the first woman to win the prestigious Pen/Faulkner Award.

Proulx fell in love with Newfoundland while she was conducting research for The Shipping News. She now spends part of each year in northern Newfoundland on a small cove adjacent to L'Anse aux Meadows..

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    1. Also Known As:
      Edna Annie Proulx (full name), E. Annie Proulx
    2. Hometown:
      LaBarge, Wyoming
    1. Date of Birth:
      August 22, 1935
    2. Place of Birth:
      Norwich, Connecticut
    1. Education:
      Attended Colby College in the 1950s. B.A., University of Vermont, 1969; M.A., Sir George Williams University, 1973

Table of Contents

The Hellhole 1
The Indian wars refought 15
The trickle down effect 47
What kind of furniture would Jesus pick? 59
The ole badger game 87
Man crawling out of trees 93
The contest 125
The wamsutter wolf 141
Summer of the hot tubs 177
Dump junk 187
Florida rental 207
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Introduction

Bad Dirt

Wyoming Stories 2

Annie Proulx

Introduction

In Elk Tooth everyone tries to be a character and with some success.

Annie Proulx's second collection of Wyoming Stories shares the backbreaking, heartbreaking, and, sometimes, gut-busting stories of the rapidly disappearing rural Americans in Bad Dirt:

"The Indian Wars Refought" follows a young Native American woman's discovery of a long lost Buffalo Bill film, found in a building owned by her white stepmother. Gilbert Wolfscale fights to hold onto the ranch that has been in his family for generations and, as a result, alienates his wife and sons in "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?" And in "Man Crawling Out of the Trees," an isolated couple from New York breaks "the cardinal rule of the country-that you give aid and help to a stranger, even your bitterest enemy when he is down."

Ever resourceful, Elk Tooth residents create their own entertainment. A beard-growing competition grows out of boredom during the bitter winter months in "The Contest"; "Summer of the Hot Tubs" chronicles the town's passing passion for building their own outdoor tubs and Willy Huson's creative attempt to heat things up; and "The Trickle Down Effect" is personified by trucker Deb Sipple-"most of what little money he made with occasional hauling funneled straight into Elk Tooth's three bars."

Nature takes its course when Amanda Gribb, Pee Wee's bartender and secret vegetarian, adds a new member to Wyoming's food chain in "Florida Rental," and Buddy Millar, wishing for new territory in "The Wamsutter Wolf," moves into a trailer park where he becomes neighbors with hisold high school bully and encounters "the real Wyoming-full of poor, hard-working transients, tough as nails and restless, going where the dollars grew."

Breaking up all the harsh reality, Proulx plays with magical realism. In "The Hellhole" Fish and Game Warden Creel Zmundzinski stumbles across a phenomenal way to dispose of poachers. Christina Stifle, who inherits an old iron teakettle while her brother is willed their parent's house and land, discovers the magical meaning of her mother's mantra, "less is more," in "Dump Junk." And a conceited critter misinterprets the affections of a rancher's wife in "The Old Badger Game."

"Broke, proud, ingenious, and setting heels against civilized society's pull," the characters in Proulx's Bad Dirt are nothing if not a success.

Discussion Questions:

1. Magical realism shapes three of the stories in this collection: "The Hellhole," "The Old Badger Game," and "Dump Junk." Do you like this style? Why or why not? What do you think these stories contribute to this collection? How does the author handle suspension of disbelief in these tales?

2. Proulx demythologizes the American West in these tales. Describe the "real Wyoming" portrayed in Bad Dirt. Who do you think is responsible for romanticizing this region? The media? The government? The tourist boards? If this element of poverty and hardship exists in some form in every state, what makes Proulx's examination of Wyoming's underbelly unique?

3. If you've read Annie Proulx's Close Range, how do you compare it to this new collection? Do you see it as a continuation of theme and style? Or does it touch on new concerns and characteristics?

4. Do you think it is a coincidence that Amanda Gribb, the bartender at Elk Tooth's Pee Wee bar, is in the first and last stories-"The Hellhole" and "Florida Rental"? Or do you think that Annie Proulx uses this character to frame her collection, making Amanda the unofficial guide to Bad Dirt? What other stories does Amanda Gribb appear in? Is she a sympathetic character?

5. What is the significance of the epigraph by Charlie Starkweather: "They say this is a wonderful world to live in, but I don't believe I ever did really live in a wonderful world"? Several of Proulx's characters in Bad Dirt are not so wonderful-Linny, the irresponsible stepdaughter in "The Indian Wars Refought"; Deb Sipple, the idiot truck driver in "The Trickle Down Effect"; Dilbert Wolfscale, the stubborn rancher in "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?"; and Willy Huson, the incompetent mechanic in "Summer of the Hot Tubs." How does the author make the reader care about, or relate to, such flawed protagonists? How do you think the author feels about these characters?

6. Animals appear throughout these stories-"The Hellhole," "The Old Badger Game," "Man Crawling Out of the Trees," "The Wamsutter Wolf," and "Florida Rental." Are they symbols, motifs, or just part of the Wyoming landscape? Discuss the role they play in each story. The buffalo is the Wyoming state animal and yet it doesn't appear in the collection. Is that significant?

7. Annie Proulx is known for populating her books with characters who have odd names like Fiesta Punch, Creel Zmundzinski, Mercedes de Silhouette, and Preacher Pecker. Do you think this creates symbolic and thematic meaning? Why do you think the author has such a fascination with strange names?

Enhance Your Book Club:

1. Take a quiz on Wyoming like the one at http://www.netstate.com/states/quiz/wy_quiz.htmHave the highest scorer pick the next book club selection!

2. Look at a map of Wyoming and plot, from any clues in the book, the location of fictional town Elk Tooth.

3. If you're the host, give everyone a cowboy hat to wear (Hats are $17.95 per dozen at www.orientaltrading.com), or seeds for the Wyoming state flower (http://www.americanmeadows.com/bulk_ind_detail.cfm?itemid=853).

Read More Show Less

Reading Group Guide

Bad Dirt

Wyoming Stories 2

Annie Proulx

Introduction

In Elk Tooth everyone tries to be a character and with some success.

Annie Proulx's second collection of Wyoming Stories shares the backbreaking, heartbreaking, and, sometimes, gut-busting stories of the rapidly disappearing rural Americans in Bad Dirt:

"The Indian Wars Refought" follows a young Native American woman's discovery of a long lost Buffalo Bill film, found in a building owned by her white stepmother. Gilbert Wolfscale fights to hold onto the ranch that has been in his family for generations and, as a result, alienates his wife and sons in "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?" And in "Man Crawling Out of the Trees," an isolated couple from New York breaks "the cardinal rule of the country-that you give aid and help to a stranger, even your bitterest enemy when he is down."

Ever resourceful, Elk Tooth residents create their own entertainment. A beard-growing competition grows out of boredom during the bitter winter months in "The Contest"; "Summer of the Hot Tubs" chronicles the town's passing passion for building their own outdoor tubs and Willy Huson's creative attempt to heat things up; and "The Trickle Down Effect" is personified by trucker Deb Sipple-"most of what little money he made with occasional hauling funneled straight into Elk Tooth's three bars."

Nature takes its course when Amanda Gribb, Pee Wee's bartender and secret vegetarian, adds a new member to Wyoming's food chain in "Florida Rental," and Buddy Millar, wishing for new territory in "The Wamsutter Wolf," moves into a trailer park where he becomes neighbors with his old high school bully and encounters "the real Wyoming-full of poor, hard-working transients, tough as nails and restless, going where the dollars grew."

Breaking up all the harsh reality, Proulx plays with magical realism. In "The Hellhole" Fish and Game Warden Creel Zmundzinski stumbles across a phenomenal way to dispose of poachers. Christina Stifle, who inherits an old iron teakettle while her brother is willed their parent's house and land, discovers the magical meaning of her mother's mantra, "less is more," in "Dump Junk." And a conceited critter misinterprets the affections of a rancher's wife in "The Old Badger Game."

"Broke, proud, ingenious, and setting heels against civilized society's pull," the characters in Proulx's Bad Dirt are nothing if not a success.

Discussion Questions:

1. Magical realism shapes three of the stories in this collection: "The Hellhole," "The Old Badger Game," and "Dump Junk." Do you like this style? Why or why not? What do you think these stories contribute to this collection? How does the author handle suspension of disbelief in these tales?

2. Proulx demythologizes the American West in these tales. Describe the "real Wyoming" portrayed in Bad Dirt. Who do you think is responsible for romanticizing this region? The media? The government? The tourist boards? If this element of poverty and hardship exists in some form in every state, what makes Proulx's examination of Wyoming's underbelly unique?

3. If you've read Annie Proulx's Close Range, how do you compare it to this new collection? Do you see it as a continuation of theme and style? Or does it touch on new concerns and characteristics?

4. Do you think it is a coincidence that Amanda Gribb, the bartender at Elk Tooth's Pee Wee bar, is in the first and last stories-"The Hellhole" and "Florida Rental"? Or do you think that Annie Proulx uses this character to frame her collection, making Amanda the unofficial guide to Bad Dirt? What other stories does Amanda Gribb appear in? Is she a sympathetic character?

5. What is the significance of the epigraph by Charlie Starkweather: "They say this is a wonderful world to live in, but I don't believe I ever did really live in a wonderful world"? Several of Proulx's characters in Bad Dirt are not so wonderful-Linny, the irresponsible stepdaughter in "The Indian Wars Refought"; Deb Sipple, the idiot truck driver in "The Trickle Down Effect"; Dilbert Wolfscale, the stubborn rancher in "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?"; and Willy Huson, the incompetent mechanic in "Summer of the Hot Tubs." How does the author make the reader care about, or relate to, such flawed protagonists? How do you think the author feels about these characters?

6. Animals appear throughout these stories-"The Hellhole," "The Old Badger Game," "Man Crawling Out of the Trees," "The Wamsutter Wolf," and "Florida Rental." Are they symbols, motifs, or just part of the Wyoming landscape? Discuss the role they play in each story. The buffalo is the Wyoming state animal and yet it doesn't appear in the collection. Is that significant?

7. Annie Proulx is known for populating her books with characters who have odd names like Fiesta Punch, Creel Zmundzinski, Mercedes de Silhouette, and Preacher Pecker. Do you think this creates symbolic and thematic meaning? Why do you think the author has such a fascination with strange names?

Enhance Your Book Club:

1. Take a quiz on Wyoming like the one at http://www.netstate.com/states/quiz/wy_quiz.htm Have the highest scorer pick the next book club selection!

2. Look at a map of Wyoming and plot, from any clues in the book, the location of fictional town Elk Tooth.

3. If you're the host, give everyone a cowboy hat to wear (Hats are $17.95 per dozen at www.orientaltrading.com), or seeds for the Wyoming state flower (http://www.americanmeadows.com/bulk_ind_detail.cfm?itemid=853).

Read More Show Less

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 6 of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted July 24, 2005

    Lovely reads

    These short stories are equally masterpieces that we can read repeatedly without becoming bored.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 16, 2013

    Easy read

    Great descriptions of the wide open spaces of wyoming. Likeable characters and beautifully written visuals of locale. Beach worthy!

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
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    Posted January 17, 2010

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    Posted January 18, 2010

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    Posted January 20, 2010

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