I’m always faintly ashamed of reading books which have been recently filmed, and which have stills from the film on the cover. I’m not sure why, but I always think that I’m radiating a kind of ‘she’s so lacking in an appreciation of literature that she’ll only read books based on films’ vibe. In fact, I haven’t seen the film of Brokeback Mountain yet, but I’m very keen to do so now.
This is a wonderful collection of short stories. I tend to either like really long and meaty books that I can lose myself in, or well-crafted short stories that give the impression of being glimpses into much larger stories, and this collection falls into the latter category. Before reading it, I was wondering how they managed to make a full length feature film out of a short story (and one of only 35 pages, at that), but the Brokeback Mountain story leaves so many spaces for your imagination to fill, that I can see why it reportedly made such a good and emotionally engrossing film.
All of the stories are based in Wyoming, and give a wonderful flavour of that State. The dialect is very distinctive, and the dialogue comes across as being believable and genuine. Phrases like “Rattle your hocks and get on down here” (yelled at some kids to hurry them up) still stick in my mind. The characters are ranchers, farmers, rodeo riders or herders, and you get a sharp sense of the toughness of their lives, the fragility of the living they make, and the brutality and beauty of the landscape. There are descriptions of the huge sky and cutting winds of the rangelands so vivid that you can almost taste the dust in your mouth. The toughness and lack of sentimentality reminds me a lot of another favourite short story collection: The Lost Salt Gift of Blood by Alistair MacLeod.
I know that Annie Proulx lives in Wyoming now, but I don’t know if she was raised there. To hear her descriptions of spurs (complete with all the jargon for the component parts), you’d be convinced she’d been a rancher or cowhand all her life. Certainly she must have done quite a bit of research. The ‘Brokeback Mountain’ story is excellent, but ‘Pair of Spurs’ (featuring the aforementioned spurs), ‘The Blood Bay’ (a delightfully grim but funny folk tale retold) and ‘The Mud Below’ (about a young rodeo rider) are also wonderful.