After three novels, Annie Proulx 57 returns to the short story form in this volume of 11 tales, all set in the state she calls home and all populated by her gritty, doomed characters. In the foreword to Close Range, she claims short stories are very difficult for her. But the firstThe Half-Skinned Steerwas included in The Best American Short Stories 1998 and The Best American Short Stories of the Century, and the lastBrokeback Mountainwon a 1998 O. Henry Short Story Award and a National Magazine Award.
Its a quick and riveting journey from first to last, propelled by Proulxs extraordinary and distinctive language, her fantastically real characters and plots that are often macabre. Finely observed details of character as well as how things look and work convey the textures of ranches, roadhouses and rodeos in a Wyoming landscape that is nothing much but weather and distance in one account.
As a whole the stories portray a grim present and box-canyon prospects for the future. Violence and lechery often drive these tales. When a Wyoming farm boy returns crippled and disfigured from his travels in the larger world, his only form of expression is riding bareback to neighboring ranches to expose himself. He ends up septic and gangrenous, castrated by local cowboys. That was all sixty years ago. . . . We are in a new millennium and such desperate things no longer happen, Proulx writes in a postscript that ends, If you believe that youll believe anything.
The world in Close Range is not devoid of honorable affection, though. In Brokeback Mountain, a tragic romance about socially forbidden true love, Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, two cowboys, find themselves passionately involved as young men who share a summer job on the mountain. Though each marries, they remain lovers for more than two decades. When Jack is killed, Ennis sets up a shrine in his trailera postcard of Brokeback Mountain beneath their two old shirts, which he discovered in Jacks closet nested one inside of the other, sweat and blood intermingled.