Annie Proulx’s Close Range is a collection of eleven short stories organized around life in Wyoming from the days of the earliest white settlers to the late twentieth century. The stories offer a bleak view of life. Though choices of genre and narrative tone can serve to distance a reader’s ability to determine an overriding perspective, for the characters in these stories, finding a way to survive in the face of human misery and harsh, inhospitable landscapes is almost never accomplished in this book.
Proulx uses a variety of genres in this collection. As she notes in the book’s foreword, some of the stories are derived from earlier folktales. “The Half-Skinned Steer,” a reworking of an Icelandic folktale, tells of a rancher cursed for his mistreatment of an animal, a curse that seems to reach others in the book as well. A mock moral is in the story “55 Miles to the Gas Pump,” a retelling of the Bluebeard folktale about the danger of opening forbidden doorways. The moral, “When you live a long way out you make your own fun,” suggests that even murder can be explained away if the conditions are harsh enough.
Diamond Felts, in “The Mud Below,” lives a life of rage because the man his mother identifies as his father has denied parentage. Felts uses, even rapes, the women around him, unable to form a close relationship. His father has abandoned him, and Felts cannot trust his mother, unable to determine who has lied...
(The entire section is 593 words.)