Gators, dirt and hot tubs in the Cowboy State

  • Bad Dirt

  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.

In "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 ’em."

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.

Stereotypes abound, 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
Annie Proulx
240 pages, hardcover $25. Scribner, 2004

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