One of our best writers gives us her best book.

BAD DIRT

WYOMING STORIES 2

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 Wamsutter Wolf”); 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.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-5799-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2004

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THE COMPLETE SHORT STORIES OF ERNEST HEMINGWAY

THE FINCA VIGIA EDITION

What's most worthy in this hefty, three-part volume of still more Hemingway is that it contains (in its first section) all the stories that appeared together in the 1938 (and now out of print) The Fifth Column and the First Forty-Nine Stories. After this, however, the pieces themselves and the grounds for their inclusion become more shaky. The second section includes stories that have been previously published but that haven't appeared in collections—including two segments (from 1934 and 1936) that later found their way into To Have and Have Not (1937) and the "story-within-a-story" that appeared in the recent The garden of Eden. Part three—frequently of more interest for Flemingway-voyeurs than for its self-evident merits—consists of previously unpublished work, including a lengthy outtake ("The Strange Country") from Islands in the Stream (1970), and two poor-to-middling Michigan stories (actually pieces, again, from an unfinished novel). Moments of interest, but luckiest are those who still have their copies of The First Forty-Nine.

Pub Date: Dec. 2, 1987

ISBN: 0684843323

Page Count: 666

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: Oct. 7, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 1987

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THE THINGS THEY CARRIED

It's being called a novel, but it is more a hybrid: short-stories/essays/confessions about the Vietnam War—the subject that O'Brien reasonably comes back to with every book. Some of these stories/memoirs are very good in their starkness and factualness: the title piece, about what a foot soldier actually has on him (weights included) at any given time, lends a palpability that makes the emotional freight (fear, horror, guilt) correspond superbly. Maybe the most moving piece here is "On The Rainy River," about a draftee's ambivalence about going, and how he decided to go: "I would go to war—I would kill and maybe die—because I was embarrassed not to." But so much else is so structurally coy that real effects are muted and disadvantaged: O'Brien is writing a book more about earnestness than about war, and the peekaboos of this isn't really me but of course it truly is serve no true purpose. They make this an annoyingly arty book, hiding more than not behind Hemingwayesque time-signatures and puerile repetitions about war (and memory and everything else, for that matter) being hell and heaven both. A disappointment.

Pub Date: March 28, 1990

ISBN: 0618706410

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Oct. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 15, 1990

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