Close Range: Wyoming Stories
by Annie Proulx
(Scribner, $25) ISBN 0-684-85221-7
Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx departs from her usual milieu and offers a collection of eleven short stories in Close Range. It is an album of love stories, but in this anthology -- instead of the usual hero and heroine -- the lover is the author and the adored is the State of Wyoming where she lives.

Great distances, unforgiving spaces, vicious winters, searing summers and barren soil are characteristics of the violence of the Wyoming environment. These are the same ingredients that spawn the loneliness of its inhabitants. But to suggest that the ruthless environment is solely responsible for shaping her characters is a trite oversimplification of her concept of fate. Annie Proulx is so much more complex than that.

These qualities of violence and loneliness, however, are centerpieces of many of the stories. Her characters are drawn from bars, rodeos, ranches, and their stories draw upon the traditions and folk tales of Wyoming, the day-to-day details of ranch work, and their characteristic toughness and persistence in the face of adversity, set against the values of the new West.

Two of the stories, "The Blood Bay" and "The Half-Skinned Steer" leave you with the same reaction that O. Henry does. All leave you with profoundly differing emotions…from awareness of the hopelessness of uphill struggles to understandings of obsession, or the wrong types of love. Proulx's imagery is incredible, and she uses it not only to capture the essence of her characters but also to tie her stories together.

The style is unrelentingly gritty, fashioned by a compassionate and exceptionally skilled observer. It was not until I personally had the privilege of hearing Proulx read her third story "Job History" and respond to questions, that I understood: that each character's voice is truly hers; that she has an enormous amount to say; and that I would be greatly enriched by listening. This is a compilation that I read in eleven different sittings, leaving time to value each one before the next was started.

--Thea Davis

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