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Author Topic: Our Book Club: Book Selection & Organizational Issues  (Read 227081 times)

Offline ImEnnisShesJack

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #15 on: May 18, 2006, 05:23:31 AM »
I'm so out of the literary loop right now that I would be willing to go with the tide on this one.

But I am going to see if I can find that Rachel Carson book...that interests me on a personal level. (Thanks MF!)
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Take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night."
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Offline whiplash

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #16 on: May 18, 2006, 07:43:10 AM »
I will go with any book selected. I know most book clubs work off of a group of questions to generate discussion. Many of these lists can be found on-line. I think we may want to use this type of format to keep the discussion relevant?
« Last Edit: May 18, 2006, 08:02:54 AM by whiplash »
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Offline Ellen (tellyouwhat)

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #17 on: May 18, 2006, 09:13:57 AM »
Hi all, I am really excited about this.  Here is one informal suggestion, how about if we alternate between A Proulx books for a while?  I am interested in reading them, what better group than all of us who have BBM in common.  But a steady diet would quickly fry us.

I just finished That Old Ace in the Hole - was fearful (after months studying every word in BBM) an A Proulx novel would be like reading Ulysses, but actually it was very humorous.  Of course, like all A Proulx stuff, now I want to talk about it!

Maybe we could ease into this with discussing some of the Close Range or Bad Dirt stories.
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Offline Desecra

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #18 on: May 18, 2006, 09:47:42 AM »
I'd love to do some of Annie Proulx's short stories.  I don't mind if it's ones I've read or not - I'm happy to read them again!  It might be fun to start with a short story.  It's not quite so onerous as a whole book - nothing worse than having to slog through  a book you've hated since page 10 :)
Unless, I say otherwise, I'm probably talking about the short story, not the movie. :)

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #19 on: May 18, 2006, 11:26:34 AM »
I think a month to read the book sounds reasonable. Perhaps if the book is longer than usual or more difficult reading a bit more time.  I'm sure many of us work and have other commitments so reading time may be at a premium.

Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #20 on: May 18, 2006, 12:32:16 PM »
Okay!  Well I'm going to post a few NYT book reviews here for informative purposes.  BTW, the New York Times is doing an article on the best works of fiction in the past 25 years this coming weekend - see that here:

And here's an article on how they came to their decisions:

One of the books that got several votes on this list that I mentioned here was 'All the Pretty Horses'.  Here's the review of that:

By Cormac McCarthy
Published: May 17, 1992
Cormac McCarthy has practiced the Joycean virtues of silence, exile and cunning more faithfully than any other contemporary author; until very recently, he shunned publicity so effectively that he wasn't even famous for it. By his single-minded commitment to his work and his apparent indifference to the rewards and aggrandizements quite openly pursued by the rest of us, he puts most other American writers to shame. The work itself repays the tight focus of his attention with its finely wrought craftsmanship and its ferocious energy.

The magnetic attraction of Mr. McCarthy's fiction comes first from the extraordinary quality of his prose; difficult as it may sometimes be, it is also overwhelmingly seductive. Powered by long, tumbling many-stranded sentences, his descriptive style is elaborate and elevated, but also used effectively to frame realistic dialogue, for which his ear is deadly accurate. This mixture builds on Faulkner's work, yet, more than Faulkner ever did, Mr. McCarthy seems to be pulling the language apart at its roots. He's noted for archaisms so unfamiliar they appear to be neologisms. His diction and phrasing come from all over the evolutionary history of English and combine into a prose that seems to invent itself as it unfolds, resembling Elizabethan language in its flux of remarkable possibilities.

All these qualities make "Suttree" (1979) and "Blood Meridian" (1985), the two long novels that precede his latest book, more than a little challenging to the uninitiated, and the world of violence that these and his earlier, shorter novels so brilliantly depict can seem, on casual inspection, to be senseless. "All the Pretty Horses," the comparatively brief first volume of a planned trilogy, is probably the most accessible of Mr. McCarthy's six novels, though it certainly preserves all his stylistic strength. Although its subject and approach are superficially more palatable, the essence of his unusual vision also persists.
Where "Suttree" and "Blood Meridian" are deliberately discontinuous, apparently random in the arrangement of their episodes, "All the Pretty Horses" is quite conventionally plotted. Another distinction from Mr. McCarthy's earlier work is the presence of a plainly sympathetic protagonist, John Grady Cole, a youth of 16 who, in the spring of 1950, is evicted from the Texas ranch where he grew up. He and another boy, Lacey Rawlins, head for Mexico on horseback, riding south until they finally turn up at a vast ranch in mountainous Coahuila, the Hacienda de la Purisima, where they sign on as vaqueros. There, in magnificent scenes that make Faulkner's story "Spotted Horses" seem almost forgettable, John Grady's unusual talent for breaking, training and understanding horses becomes crucial to the hacendado Don Hector's ambitious breeding program.

For John Grady, La Purisima is a paradise, complete with its Eve, Don Hector's daughter, Alejandra. Their relationship is Mr. McCarthy's first excursion into romance since his 1973 novel, "Child of God," in which all the female lovers are dead. Infinitely more sympathetically rendered, John Grady's affair with Alejandra ends badly nonetheless. When Don Hector and his aunt, the formidable Duena Alfonsa, discover it, they arrange for John Grady and Rawlins to be arrested for acts of murder and horse theft actually committed by another American runaway they met on the trail. The rest of their journey brings them closer and closer, though not fatally near, to the vortex of violent anarchy that swirls up toward the surface of all of Mr. McCarthy's writing.

In the hands of some other writer, this material might make for a combination of "Lonesome Dove" and "Huckleberry Finn," but Mr. McCarthy's vision is deeper than Larry McMurtry's and, in its own way, darker than Mark Twain's. Along with the manifold felicities of his writing goes a serious concern with the nature of God (if God exists) and, almost obsessively, the nature of something most readers have assumed to be evil. The decay of Western civilization throws a long shadow over all his work. "We're like the Comanches was two hundred years ago," John Grady's father remarks. "We dont know what's goin to show up here come daylight. We dont even know what color they'll be."

The novel opens and closes with eerie images of American Indians that suggest our civilization may be swallowed up as completely as theirs. For John Grady, meanwhile, the issue is the using up of the country; he heads for Mexico because too much of Texas has been fenced in or foreclosed on. Mr. McCarthy's descriptions of the landscape are breathtakingly beautiful, but anyone who thinks he is sentimental about nature need only read "Blood Meridian" for a permanent cure.
Cormac McCarthy must be acknowledged as a talent equal to William Faulkner, but whatever he may owe to Faulkner's style, his substance could not be more different. Faulkner's work is all about human history and all takes place in mental spaces, while in Mr. McCarthy's work human thought and activity seem almost completely inconsequential when projected upon the vast alien landscapes where they occur. Human behavior may achieve its own integrity -- it's John Grady's conscientious striving for this quality that makes him Mr. McCarthy's most appealing character -- but it generally seems to have little effect. It's unusual for a writer to adopt such a disinterested posture toward human beings, but Mr. McCarthy, like John Grady, seems to hold a higher opinion of horses:

"In his sleep he could hear the horses stepping among the rocks and he could hear them drink from the shallow pools in the dark where the rocks lay smooth and rectilinear as the stones of ancient ruins and the water from their muzzles dripped and rang like water dripping in a well and in his sleep he dreamt of horses and the horses in his dream moved gravely among the tilted stones like horses come upon an antique site where some ordering of the world had failed and if anything had been written on the stones the weathers had taken it away again and the horses were wary and moved with great circumspection carrying in their blood as they did the recollection of this and other places where horses once had been and would be again. Finally what he saw in his dream was that the order in the horse's heart was more durable for it was written in a place where no rain could erase it."

What order there may be in the world is not, Mr. McCarthy suggests, of our devising and is very likely beyond our comprehension. His project is unlike that of any other writer: to make artifacts composed of human language but detached from a human reference point. That sense of evil that seems to suffuse his novels is illusory; it comes from our discomfort in the presence of a system that is not scaled to ourselves, within which our civilizations may be as ephemeral as flowers. The deity that presides over Mr. McCarthy's world has not modeled itself on humanity; its voice most resembles the one that addressed Job out of the whirlwind.

As for himself, Mr. McCarthy has told a French journalist that the fact that he writes is incidental to his life, that he spends his time with equal profit gazing at the toes of his shoes. What for another writer would be a silly pose is for Mr. McCarthy the natural consequence of his view of the world and the people in it. It is an uncomfortable vision, but one that has a strange power to displace all others.

I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #21 on: May 18, 2006, 12:39:11 PM »
Here is a NYT review for the Jim Harrison book:

Sauternes and Spaghetti
Published: October 29, 2000

The Beast God
Forgot to Invent
By Jim Harrison.
274 pp. New York:
Atlantic Monthly Press. $24.
The rap against Jim Harrison's fiction -- before, at any rate, he began smuggling female heroines into his novels (''Dalva'') and occasionally affecting a more elegiac tone (''Legends of the Fall'') -- was that his male characters tended to be macho lunkheads. Harrison didn't do much to dispel his he-man image. Writing in Esquire in 1983, he merrily labeled his feminist detractors ''brie brains'' and ''spit dribblers'' before tossing off this memorable line: ''Even now, far up in the wilderness in my cabin, where I just shot a lamprey passing upstream with my Magnum, I wouldn't have the heart to turn down a platter of hot buttered cheerleaders.''

Well, there you have it, I remember thinking to myself at the time -- Harrison's sensibility boiled down into a crunchy sound bite. But I also remember thinking (after I spent a few hours shaking the image of those cheerleaders out of my head): Couldn't Harrison have done an even slightly better job of defending himself?

Rereading Harrison's gruff and picaresque early novels -- Wolf,'' ''Warlock,'' ''A Good Day to Die'' -- you're struck not just by how well they've held up, but at how subversive and deft his satire is: nearly all the humor in these books is directed at his aggressive, but somehow bewildered, antiheroes. They fantasize about sex but rarely have any; they're given to pratfalls like showing up at fancy restaurants not knowing they have butter smeared on their lapels. They're louts, but they're tender, easily wounded louts. (Imagine a Robert Stone character who trips over his own shoelaces every 15 pages or so, and you've got the idea.) That these men so closely resemble Harrison himself, often right down to owning a cabin in upper Michigan and being blind in one eye, only adds to the sense of playfulness. There's a splinter faction among Harrison's admirers who feel that these books tower over his calmer, more measured work, and in a pinch I'd vote with them to kick his other stuff off the island.
Harrison's new book, ''The Beast God Forgot to Invent,'' is a collection of three loose-limbed novellas, and in them he revisits the kind of blinkered tough guys we've met in his early work -- only now they're older (Harrison himself is 62) and more ruminative, if no more wise and no less horny. These days, Harrison's alpha males tend to be on restricted diets and are serious about getting in their nap time. They are also grievously aware of the fact that once you are over 50, as one of them puts it, women ''look just over your head as if you were a janitor.''

For the most part, you don't read Harrison's books for plot; instead, you read them for the way that Harrison tattoos every available surface with scattershot ruminations on food, art, Hawaiian shirts, martinis, shotguns, getting lost in the woods, ogling women, you name it. Thus we can dispense with the ''action'' in these novellas fairly quickly. In the first, a ''semi-retired'' rare books dealer from Chicago -- who, of course, owns a cabin in upper Michigan -- mourns the loss of an exuberant young friend who has died, probably a suicide. (He also mourns the fact that the young man's sexy former girlfriends won't even sleep with him out of pity.) In the second novella, a Michigan Indian walks across greater Los Angeles with $49 in his pocket, trying to find a bear skin that was stolen from him. And in the final novella, we meet a callow journalist who writes quickie books called ''Bioprobes'' about such luminaries as Michael Eisner. If these three characters sound fairly distinct from one another, you'll have to trust me on this: in terms of voice and attitude, they're all pretty much the same guy.
The quality of Harrison's food and sex writing (his two major preoccupations) hasn't diminished a bit. Harrison's men have always been what you might call caveman gourmands, and you're not surprised that in the first novella, the rare books dealer turns out to be the kind of guy who not only uncorks a $300 Chteau d'Yquem to drink with his morning pancakes but is just as overjoyed to stumble on a can of Franco-American spaghetti in the local grocery store. As for sex, what other writer this side of Nicholson Baker would have a character spy a young woman in a ''blue-flowered summer skirt'' and enthuse, ''The great Picasso would have leapt on her like a flying squirrel''? The men don't get all the good lines, either. In the final novella, a woman suggests why bodily appetites are more important in Manhattan than elsewhere: ''There's no nature in New York,'' she says, ''and the closest you can get is an orgasm.''

What makes these novellas darker and more emotionally complicated than Harrison's earlier work is a strong whiff of mortality. ''I have certainly rounded third base and am headed for home plate, which is a hole in the ground,'' the rare books dealer says. These men are tormented by the wrong choices they've made in their lives, and they (morosely, stupidly) try to convince themselves that only a new woman can rescue them: ''Right now I feel that my human tank is drained and I am the sediment, the scum on the bottom, the excrescence of my own years,'' one of them says. ''It occurs to me that the memory of Sonia sitting in the chair a few feet from where I am now may have precipitated this funk. Nothing so much torments a geezer as the thought of the unlived life. For some reason she summons up an image of a steelworker shoveling coal into a blast furnace.''

Harrison has never been the most exacting writer on the planet, but occasionally his scruffiness crosses over into sloppiness. There's a funny description in a sex scene from ''Warlock'' (1981) -- She lunged forward, yanking at his part as if to start an outboard motor'' -- that is repeated almost word for word here. And Harrison tends to use the same adjectives (notably ''otiose,'' a longtime favorite of his) so often that you wonder if he has special symbols for them on his keyboard.
But these are minor sins. What wins you over in the end is the big, wet, sloppy kiss Harrison continues to plant on the face of life itself. In ''The Beast God Forgot to Invent,'' the biggest praise he has for anyone is to remark, ''He's literally taking bites out of the sun, moon and earth.'' Which is a far better description of Harrison's sensibility than anything you can say about hot buttered cheerleaders.
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #22 on: May 18, 2006, 01:13:13 PM »
Here's the review of 'Old Ace In The Hole' from the New York Times:

The News From Woolybucket
Published: December 15, 2002

By Annie Proulx.
361 pp. New York:
Scribner. $26.

WHEN Bob Dollar's parents abandon him at the age of 8 on a doorstep in Denver, he has arrived at the threshold of two things: his Uncle Tam's junk shop and Annie Proulx's fourth novel. And, to be sure, ''That Old Ace in the Hole'' has a lot in common with the Used but Not Abused thrift store. The proprietor, Tambourine Bapp, and his partner, the marvelous grump Wayne (Bromo) Redpoll -- once thrown off a plane for his militant refusal to lower his window shade and ever at work on an essay entitled ''This Land Is NOT Your Land'' -- specialize in ''Art Plastics,'' for which they have set aside a special chamber in their shop. The Art Plastics room contains such treasures as Bakelite radios and jewelry, but also, ''on floor pedestals, as if sculptures . . . plastic washing-machine agitators, black and white.'' Bob's uncle explains that ''one day . . . people will collect plastic objects from the 20th century as art, like now they are going after wooden grain cradles and windmill weights.'' For Proulx, it isn't odd bits of large appliances that cry out for a curator, it's the texture of working-class rural life.

Proulx wrote about New England farmers in her first novel, ''Postcards,'' and about the residents of a Newfoundland fishing town in her Pulitzer Prize winner, ''The Shipping News.'' Her short-story collection ''Close Range'' cast a cool eye on the rough lives of Westerners, mostly Wyoming cowboys and ranchers. In ''That Old Ace in the Hole'' she memorializes the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles: high, flat country where the prairie still lingers even though the grasslands have been harried by cattle, oil rigs and agribusiness for over 150 years. She has collected quite a pile of stuff -- history, economics, folkways and local lore -- to shoehorn into this novel, and the result is decidedly lumpy.

''That Old Ace in the Hole'' starts out pleasantly enough, a nice ride through the rolling country of anecdote and eccentricity. The weather descriptions, though frequent, are brief, and there is hardly any geology -- one of the deadlier preoccupations of regional literature. Since she shifted her focus westward, Proulx's prose has lost the Anglo-Saxon knobbiness of ''Postcards'' and ''The Shipping News,'' books with amputee sentences that read as if someone had attacked them with a cleaver, determined to chop off their subjects and verbs. Her style is now rangier and more discursive, as if delivered by someone leaning over a fence rail rather than by someone hurrying to get the wood chopped before the onset of nine months of snow. She still goes in for goofy names, but there are fewer that sound as if they belong to hobbits (Froggy Dibden, Mrs. Stinchcomb) and more that sound like the monikers of strippers or rodeo clowns (Babe Vanderslice, Harry Howdiboy and the truly inexcusable Francis Scott Keister).

To his chagrin, Bob Dollar reaches the age of 25 without any particular sense of what he wants to do with his life; this anxious vagueness is almost his only character trait. Having landed a job with the multinational Global Pork Rind corporation, he is sent down to the panhandles in a company car to scope out possible sites for factory hog farms. The locals, says his boss, Ribeye Cluke, ''have been brainwashed by the Sierra Club to think that hog facilities are bad,'' so he needs to be ''as circumspect as possible'' about his true mission: befriending the neighborhood gossips and notables and looking for the ''farmers whose kids went off to school and those kids are not coming back unless somebody puts a gun to their heads.'' Bob stumbles upon the town of Woolybucket, Tex., where he rents a rustic bunkhouse -- no running water or electricity -- from a talkative widow named LaVon Fronk, and he starts to poke around.

So far, it's an agreeable journey, but then, about 90 pages in, the novel hits a wide, dull stretch of potted history and exposition on topics like the Ogallala aquifer, pivot irrigators and the principal crops of the region (wheat seed, sorghum, soybeans, peanuts and cotton, if you were wondering). This is mostly conveyed by unconvincing dialogue and by Bob's letters to the home office, but there are also big chunks of it in raw form, sentences -- The flood of people came with the railroads, small farmers who believed that drought and wind could be overcome by hard work and the plow'' -- that sound like the voice-over on an old educational film strip.

IT just so happens that LaVon Fronk is putting together a multivolume work she calls ''The Woolybucket Rural Compendium'' and therefore has heaps of historical documents in her house, as well as scads of regional legends stuffed in her head. In addition to this ''faded panhandle Scheherazade,'' there's the gang down at the Old Dog Cafe, a passel of sound-alike ranchers ever ready to explain regional water policy: ''Hell, we ain't like California where they got central irrigation and water co-ops.'' And then there's the Round Robin Baptist Bible Quilt Circle, ladies whose conversation about disastrously failed permanent waves, killer tornadoes and the evil doings at ''abortion parlors'' is a bit juicier. Despite his promisingly Dickensian upbringing, Bob is just a filament on which to string assorted tales of 10-mule freight wagons, lovesick cowboys, box socials and frontier voter fraud. He's an outsider and ''a sucker for stories told'' who will sit at the feet of the old-timers and plead for more.

The novel's acknowledgments suggest that Proulx once did much the same thing and came away smitten with the panhandles, the regional folklore and the operational details of such items as wind-powered water pumps. ''That Old Ace in the Hole'' is her paean to all that, a loving record of an evaporating way of life. The cause is worthy, but why she chose a novel for her vehicle instead of what the material seems to dictate, a nonfiction book about the people of the high plains and the author's travels among them, is another question. Why fiction, when the book's driving impulse is documentary in nature and when Proulx's heart really isn't in the long narrative of Bob Dollar and his implausible quest? (No one could believe for one minute that he'll end up helping to install a vile, polluting hog farm in Woolybucket.) She used a similar device in ''The Shipping News,'' but, despite the slenderness of that novel's premise (a widower finding new love), it managed to carry the book. Decent, indecisive Bob can't do the same here.

It's not as if Proulx has lost her touch. When ''That Old Ace in the Hole'' occasionally slips into full-blooded fiction -- in chapters, for example, where Proulx describes the arrival of the first Fronk in the region or a farm wife's sudden, overwhelming lust for a cowhand -- it really comes alive. Any one of the dozens of yarns crammed into ''That Old Ace in the Hole'' would probably make a captivating novel or short story; it's Proulx's determination to jam all of them between the book's covers that bogs things down.

Then again, however unsung the panhandles may be, the tales told here -- of wayward cowpokes, stubborn ranchers, leather-tough women, temperamental horses, plagues of locusts, family farms devoured by nefarious conglomerates and creeping environmental threats -- are all pretty familiar. The really savory morsels in ''That Old Ace in the Hole'' aren't about the panhandles at all. There's a charming account of the Sunday night ritual of the proprietors of the Used but Not Abused thrift store, a rapt viewing of ''Antiques Roadshow.'' And then there's Orlando Bunnel, Bob Dollar's school friend, an ''evil fat boy'' who introduces him to movies like ''Rat Women'' and ''The Corpse Grinders'' (the former zestily synopsized by Proulx). Orlando is sent to prison for hacking into the computers of the Colorado office of the United States Forest Service and diverting all its funds to a Nevada bordello, then gets rich while incarcerated by making a CD in which sample recordings of flatulence cover classic rock songs. (''We had one guy was a real star. Nothing he couldn't do -- basso profundo to coloratura, whistles and quavers, tremolo.'') When Orlando materializes late in the book, trying to lure Bob off to Austin, it's clear that our hero is a better man for staying on and getting involved with preserving the native flora and fauna of the prairie. But you can't help wishing he'd taken that evil fat boy up on his offer.

Laura Miller is an editor at
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer

Offline TomS

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #23 on: May 18, 2006, 01:19:00 PM »
I would love to participate.  Just by coincidence--I swear!--I just started reading All the Pretty Horses.  But I'm up for any others on the list-- just let me know.  Thanks!!


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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #24 on: May 18, 2006, 01:24:53 PM »
I would love to participate, but I'm not a fast reader, but I'll try.  I'm willing to go with whatever is chosen. 

Bobbie  ;D

Offline michaelflanagansf

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #25 on: May 18, 2006, 01:36:19 PM »
Here's an article from the time Annie's 'Postcards' was released (from Boston Globe...couldn't find a NYT review):

Postcards from the solitary life Writer Annie Proulx enjoys success and independence ;  Patti Doten, Globe Staff; ;  The Boston Globe   ; 05-26-1992

VERSHIRE, Vt. -- It's best to visit author E. Annie Proulx after the snow and ice have given way to warmer weather but before the spring thaw has turned the earth around her home into a gooey meatloaf.

Go through town, a visitor is told. It's a very tiny town with only a small brick town office building to herald its presence. No shops. No country store. No restaurant. Not even a buy-and-sell antique establishment in a falling-down barn.
Take a dirt road, the directions continue, a left and then up a water-creviced hill to Proulx's house, which is set against a hilly field. Proulx did much of the work on her six-year-old house.

"I love to sew and I'm a moderately fair carpenter," said Proulx (pronounced prew) over tea at the table where she wrote in longhand her recently published and critically acclaimed novel "Postcards." (The New York Times compared it to "An American Tragedy'" and "Native Son.") "But carpentry isn't as easy as sewing. Wood doesn't bend like cloth.

"But the worst job was staining the clapboards," continued Proulx, who is constantly getting up to point out a book or a painting, and changing the subject from herself. "I hated it. So boring. Plus, moving a big, tall ladder around alone was very troublesome."

But just when her house is nearing completion, Proulx is thinking about moving from this town of 400. Five or six cars now drive by daily on the dirt road below. Much too much congestion and human activity for this woman who, when not writing, is out fishing, hunting, cross-country skiing and stacking wood. She'll move back up country soon, she hopes, and build a different kind of house, not so tall, but one that will still afford her a view of the birds and their private lives.

Proulx, who has been married and divorced three times and has three grown sons, has just returned from a trip cross-country and is waiting until the ice thaw is just right before trout fishing in Newfoundland -- a land she calls spare, hard and empty and populated with rural people who have a touch of wildness about them.

"I never have a problem finding someone to go hunting and fishing with," said Proulx, dressed in her daily uniform of slacks and a loose-fitting sweatshirt. "I do a lot of things on my own. I don't like group things."

What she does like is writing fiction, which she was unable to do while making a living for her family. But she has always put bread and butter on the table by writing -- mostly free-lance articles for such magazines as Down East, Country Journal, Outdoor Life and Horticulture. And she had a two-year stint in the early '80s as founder and editor of a monthly newspaper called Behind the Times.

"Being a free-lance writer is not easy -- slow pay, no pay and low pay. But I didn't have any choice. I wasn't trained for anything else," said Proulx, who received a doctorate from Montreal's Sir George Williams University (now Concordia University) in 1975. "And I liked the writing life even when it was a hand-to-mouth existence."

But Proulx can now relax. At least this year. For she not only has the blessing of critics as a talented writer of a first novel but a Guggenheim Fellowship. And she has just finished her second novel, which is about a third-rate newspaperman in Newfoundland.

"Because I've always wanted to write fiction and couldn't," said Proulx, "I have stories stacked up in my head. I have more than enough ideas to fill all the years until I die."

In "Postcards," Proulx gives the reader a powerful sense of the gothic soul of New England through her family, the Bloods, rural Vermont farmers who are seared by poverty and the exhaustion of working unyielding soil. The book begins with a murder and burial under a stone wall that sends one of the sons, Loyal, fleeing the farm into a misspent life on the run. His absence is the final death knoll for the farm.

The book opens with the murder.

Even before he got up he knew he was on his way. Even in the midst of the involuntary orgasmic jerking he knew. Knew she was dead, knew he was on his way. Even standing there on shaking legs, trying to push the copper buttons through the stiff buttonholes he knew that everything he had done or thought in his life had to be started over again. Even if he got away.

"What I like about `Postcards' is that it shows the twists of events over a 40-year period {1944-'80s}," said Proulx. "What interests me is social change -- the melting away of older ways of living and thinking and the effect on language, clothing, food, attitude. In social shifts there is a time flow. I think why my novel and book of short stories {"Heart Songs and Other Stories"} have gotten good reviews is that people sense something happening beneath the surface."

And powerful, sensual language. This is how she describes the guilt-ridden Loyal and his self-inflicted punishment:

No wife, no family, no children, no human comfort in the quotidian unfolding of his life; for him, restless shifting from one town to another, the narrow fences of solitary thought, the pitiful easement of masturbation, lopsided ideas and soliloquies so easily transmuted to crazy mouthings. Up there beside the wall some kind of black mucky channel that ran from his genitals to his soul had begun to erode.

To document Loyal's cross-country odyssey, Proulx herself traveled across the nation and back. To get local color and speech, she would sit in bars and listen.

"Bars are the living rooms of the West," said Proulx. Not only men go to bars there -- "Women do too. Out West in small communities people are pleasant to their neighbors because they don't want to alienate them. They may need their help someday. Adversity makes people kind. It is the survival factor."

Proulx said she grew up in a family of storytellers, with the head storyteller being her mother. Her father was in textiles and moved the family of five daughters from one New England town to another. Proulx said she did not find the constant upheaval difficult because she always felt apart from school life and the community. She lived, she said, in a world of books.

"Plus, I had my four younger sisters for company and my mother, who was always doing things, painting and making things with us," said Proulx, who took two watercolors off the wall to show her visitor, one painted by her mother and the other by her artist sister.

Proulx said she usually gets up at 5 in the morning, builds a fire and writes until 10. Then she does errands. She will sometimes write in the afternoon and can write 16 to 18 hours straight if pressed. She said she doesn't find long hours of writing a chore because she gets so involved with her characters. She has a couple of close friends who share her enjoyment of foreign film videos, which she rents in Montpelier, even though Hanover, N.H., is closer. She dreads the parking tickets there, she said, and the yuppies at Dartmouth.

"I like people who speak out," said Proulx. "I don't like people who are polite and silent. I like people who say what's on their mind, even if they offend. I don't have the patience to dig and delve into people."

Proulx said she is not a religious person and does not believe in God. What she does believe in is bonds between people that are beyond daily empirical observation.

"I'm a naturist; I believe in natural forces," said Proulx. "And humans are part of those natural forces. People often think humans stand alone outside this force.

"Oh, let me show you the postcards that started me writing my book."

She jumps up and returns with a handful of postcards with mug shots of prisoners on them, printed by the Vermont Prison Authority in the early '40s.

"Look at the faces," said Proulx. "It was those faces that started me writing my book. Look at the desolate and disturbing looks on their faces. They are finished faces. They are faces with no chances."

Like her main character, Loyal Blood.
I do my thing, & you do your thing. I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, and you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I, and if by chance we find each other - it is beautiful. If not it can't be helped.

Fritz Perls - A Gestalt Prayer


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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #26 on: May 18, 2006, 02:50:00 PM »
I recently read "Postcards" and found it extremely moving and thought provoking.  Although it begins in Vermont, most of the story takes place further west, and I never felt I was reading a "New England" novel per se.  The summary above has one glaring mistake--although there is a death in the beginning, it is not a murder.  It is actually a tragic accident which traps Loyal into a life of wandering.  After a few pages I began to picture Loyal as Ennis after Jack's death--sort of lost and moving on, but very unhappy.  The actual sending of postcards in the story added to this analogy.  I think it would be a good choice for the book club, either now or at some future date. 

Offline Junior

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #27 on: May 18, 2006, 03:18:18 PM »
Francis Scott Keister - I love it!

A month would probably work for me as long as I could get the book. I will be using inter-library loan to borrow the books rather than buy them, so whatever lead time there would be between books would give me the chance to request them and have them delivered.

Thanks for the reviews and for a few more tidbits of information about Annie.


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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #28 on: May 18, 2006, 05:29:26 PM »
This is a nice range of choices.  I suggest we agree on one book & go to it. 

Offline notBastet

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Re: Our Book Club
« Reply #29 on: May 18, 2006, 07:59:16 PM »
I would also love to participate... I think a month sounds reasonable (could always change length if doesn't work out well).  I don't know about anyone else, but from the time the decision is made it would take me a few days to acquire such book.  Maybe for the first one it might easiest to start with something most people likely have (is that the Close Range stories?) - could go ahead and pick next book at the same time, to allow purchase time?

Would the discussion be all haphazard with everyone reading at different speeds?  Or would it be easier to have meet times to discuss certain sections???  (No idea.  Always loved the thought of a book club, but never participated.)

Do we need a "coordinator" or would the mods do it?
"Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace..."

John Lennon