Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 585

E. Annie Proulx’s ‘‘The Half-Skinned Steer’’ and Close Range: Wyoming Stories have received mostly good reviews from critics. The reviewer for Kirkus Reviews notes that the story is one of two in the collection that particularly displays ‘‘Proulx’s trademark whipsaw wit and raw, lusty language.’’ Likewise, in his article for Progressive, Dean Bakopoulos calls the story ‘‘one of the highlights of this wellcrafted collection’’ and says that the tale ‘‘sets up all the themes that dominate this volume: The struggle of hope against nature, mortality, and despair.’’ In her book, Understanding Annie Proulx, Karen Rood notes that ‘‘Mero’s trek evokes the traditional, mythic associations of the westward journey toward death, as he makes his solitary pilgrimage back in time as well as distance toward his boyhood home.’’ Rood also notes that while this ‘‘powerful’’ story is ‘‘about an ending, it is also about returning to one’s beginning, where, stripped bare of all defenses, one faces the harsh realities of life.’’

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Not everybody gives the story or story collection total praise, however. In his essay for Michigan Quarterly Review, Michael Kowalewski says that, in the book, almost ‘‘all the men, young and old, seem capable of only a crude sexuality’’ and cites Mero’s bestial sexual fantasies as an example. In a review for Christian Science Monitor, Merle Rubin says the story is not his favorite in the collection: ‘‘It’s a bit portentous and heavy-handed in its symbolism, and parts drag, as Proulx piles on detail.’’ Critics tend to either love or hate Proulx’s attention to detail in the collection. The Publishers Weekly reviewer says that there is ‘‘stringent authority in her meticulous descriptions.’’ Likewise, Bakopoulos is surprised that Proulx is able ‘‘to give each story the plot, depth of character, sense of setting, and thematic weight of an entire novel.’’ However, Bakopoulos also notes that Proulx’s ‘‘talent is sometimes a flaw. On occasion, she packs in too much detail, particularly at the openings. . . . While impressive, this background information often slows the stories down.’’

The overwhelming majority of critics discuss Proulx’s unique writing style. In his English Journal article, John Noell Moore says that he was not prepared for ‘‘the exquisite beauty of the language, the shaping of metaphor and symbol, the poetry in Proulx’s pages.’’ Likewise, in the Georgia Review, Erin McGraw cites Proulx’s skill as a novelist but says that she is even more powerful in her short fiction, a form that ‘‘distills her strength of characterization and description.’’ In fact, the effect of the tightly packed stories was powerful enough to make McGraw ‘‘have to close the book for a little while and recover from the shock.’’ Kirkus Reviews gives the book a star, its designation for ‘‘books of unusual merit.’’ In addition, the reviewer notes: ‘‘Nobody else writes like this, and Proulx has never written better.’’ In fact, critics love Proulx’s writing style so much that they are often inspired to create their own unique ways of describing it. In her Booklist review, Donna Seaman talks about Proulx’s ‘‘booted and spurred sentences.’’ McGraw says that ‘‘Proulx uses language like a glass-cutting tool to etch out her dark world.’’

Close Range: Wyoming Stories has also added to Proulx’s enormous popular success. In fact, as Charlotte Glover notes in her Library Journal review, ‘‘Proulx’s idiosyncratic writing style and offbeat characters are not for everyone, but her legions of fans will insure that this collection finds a home in every library.’’

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