The stories in Annie Proulx's new collection are peopled by characters who struggle with circumstances beyond their control in a kind of rural noir half-light. Trouble comes at them from unexpected angles, and they will themselves through it, hardheaded and resourceful. Bound by the land and by custom, they inhabit worlds that are often isolated, dangerous, and in Proulx's bold prose, stunningly vivid.
In "What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick?" rancher Gilbert Wolfscale, alienated from his sons, bewildered by his criminal ex-wife, gets shoved down his throat the fact that the old-style ranch life has gone. Several stories concern the eccentric denizens of Elk Tooth, a tiny hamlet where life revolves around three bars. Elk Toothers enter beard-growing contests, scrape together a living hauling hay, catch poachers in unorthodox ways. "Man Crawling out of Trees" is about urban newcomers from the east and their discovery, too late, that one of them has violated the deepest ethics of the place. Above all, these stories are about the compelling lives of rapidly disappearing rural Americans.
Through Proulx's knowledge of the history of Wyoming and the west, her interest in landscape and place, and her sympathy for the sheer will it takes to survive, we see the seared heart of the tough people who live in the emptiest state. Proulx, winner of the Pulitzer, the National Book Award, and many other prizes, has written a collection of spectacularly satisfying stories.