Readers will recognize the collection of colorful characters in Proulx’s latest installment of Wyoming fictions. The 11 stories in Bad Dirt feature trailer types, Eastern transplants, local roughnecks, and eccentric elders, living in a zero-sum economy of extractive plunder that would make native son Dick Cheney giddy with pride.
"Wamsutter Wolf," mountain man wannabe Graig Deshler proclaims he
was born 150 years too late. He drives a muddy Power Wagon and
loathes authority figures. "The U.S. government, and that goes for
the Game and Fish, can kiss my butt. Old Claude Dallas had the
right idea. They come messin’ around your camp, shoot
In "Man Crawling Out of Trees," a
transplanted Brooklyn couple buys into the Star Lily Ranch and
finds the culture shock as breathtaking as the scenery: "Everything
seemed to end in blood." Local rancher and widow Eleanora Figg is
Proulx’s foil to the Infiniti-driving, olive-eating
newcomers. Figg herself lives "on home-killed beef, boiled
potatoes, and black coffee."
Proulx, who lives part-time
in Wyoming and is the author of six books, including The
Shipping News and Close Range, tends
toward humorous finales. In "Florida Rental," a barmaid in
fictional Elk Tooth imports some reptilian muscle from the Sunshine
State to save her lawn and garden from her neighbor’s
marauding cattle. And at the close of the hilarious "Summer of the
Hot Tubs," Willy Huson abandons his makeshift hot tub (a cannibal
pot hung over a wood fire) for a "non-English speaking Tibetan
girlfriend" and a 1949 Land Rover.
but stereotypes often ring true. Proulx’s writing is crisp
and lively, and absent the overwrought romanticism that often
describes life in these parts. Does Proulx portray the "real West?"
Who cares? Bad Dirt is delicious fun — and the best part is
that no one is spared. Bad Dirt
240 pages, hardcover $25. Scribner, 2004
Gators, dirt and hot tubs in the Cowboy State
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