Pioneer homesteaders facing drought and debt give way to modern-day hippies trying to lose themselves in the vanishing wilderness and real estate developers out to make a buck-unforgettable characters in nine stories that range in tone from crude cowboy humor to heartbreaking American tragedy.
"People said that Shaina Lister with aquamarine eyes and curls the shining maroon of waterbirch bark had won all the kiddie beauty contests and then had become the high school slut, knocked up when she was fifteen and cutting out the day after Dakotah was born, slinking and wincing, still in her hospital johnny, down the back stairs of Mercy Maternity to the street, where one of her greasy pals picked her up and headed west for Los Angeles."
That sentence could be a whole book, but Proulx dismisses Shaina quickly and gets on with Dakotah's life in the final story in this collection (and one of the best), "Tits-Up in a Ditch." That title should tell you something too. Proulx doesn't shrink from the hard bits of life. Being poor, losing a husband, growing old - all are laid bare in these stories, as bare as the Wyoming landscape where most of them are set. The short story is the perfect form for these spare tales, and Proulx uses each page to the fullest.
I listened to the audio version of this collection and Will Patton does a great job. His impersonation of the devil, in particular, really hits the mark. He varies between humor and sympathy perfectly catching the author's finely tuned nuances. This book will give you a rarely seen glimpse of the secret side of Wyoming.
Fine Just The Way It Is is a collection of short stories, mostly set in Wyoming, although there are two set in Hell, with the Devil as the central character. Maybe that's Proulx's real opinion of Wyoming? She visits 19th century homesteaders, an old cowboy in a nursing home, 21st century ranchers, back country hikers. Each has a story to tell and in each story the place is an important element.
Most of the characters seem to end up in a condition best described by the title of one of the stories Tits Up In A Ditch. They die in childbirth, catch pneumonia, get trapped by a falling rock high on a mountainside. Or old and tired in a nursing home, like Mr. Forkenbrock in the opening story, who would rather die of exposure, sitting with his back aginst a fence post, like an old man he remembers from his youth. Sitting comfortable on my sofa I can enjoy sympathizing with all these characters, knowing that they are fictional and I won't suffer brain damage from a roadside bomb in Iraq and be sent home to my unprepared parents on a ranch in the middle of nowhere.
I have the same objection to this book as I do with any well written collection of short stories. About the time that I really start to get involved with a group of characters, that story is over and I have to start over with a whole new set.
The title of the book comes from something said repeatedly by one of the characters, "Wyoming is fine just the way it is." Every story, although each reveals something beautiful about the state, show how very difficult it is to live there. It should be depressing, but it isn't.
I'll Never Forget The Day I Read A Book!
Really, all of these stories are on the bleak side, and there are a few moments, especially in the concluding story “Tits-up in a ditch”, where I feel she’s coming close to being heartless in her kicking around the poor main character. But she manages to keep on the right side, I think, and the emotional impact of these stories is hard to deny.
Two lame-ass stories starring the devil and delivering the blunt satire that usually follows with the tired concept “The Hoofed one decides to modernize Hell” are totally expendable and drags this collection down at least half a notch. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed my first literary trip to the vast plains of Wyoming, and will look for more Proulx in the future.
couple of slight tales about the devil, a story about a sagebrush plant and a prehistoric tale of
Wyoming, "Deep-Blood-Greasy-Bowl", these add variety but not depth and are unremarkable.
The Wyoming stories are good and consistent with those in her earlier collections of short stories, Close Range and Bad Dirt. I enjoyed the final story, "Tits-up in a Ditch", most, although all the Wyoming stories are melancholy tales, with only small glimpses of happiness briefly enjoyed in a hard life.
Some of Annie Proulx's best Wyoming short stories, "Brokeback Mountain" for instance, from the collection "Close Range", step out of the landscape, grow out of the land beneath her characters' feet. Proulx's powerful descriptions capturing Wyoming's harsh landscape are brilliantly done, with Wyoming's bleak, forbidding landscape of vast windswept plains or rugged mountains often as powerful a player as any character in a story - clearly exemplified here by "Testimony of the Donkey", a contemporary story set against the stark, scenic grandeur of Wyoming's mountainous terrain where the landscape all but becomes a character.
"Them Old Cowboy Songs", a sad story stepping out of the vast Wyoming prairie landscape of the 1880's, records the devastating pioneering experience of two young newly-weds in their remote homestead, confronted by poverty, isolation and a cruel landscape. Annie Proulx doesn't do 'sentimental' : what she does do in her distinctive unsparing prose is stark reality treatment of the West, uncompromising portraits of Wyoming folk hard-pressed to scrape to-gether a living faced with the grinding challenges of a hardscrabble prairie existence. Some homesteaders struggled through the hard times but others, desperate, defeated and disappointed, struggled on in vain, had "short runs" - and lost, hopes and dreams swept away.
A special brand of Wyoming hell is reserved for Dakotah Lister in a memorable contemporary story, "Tits Up In A Ditch". Joining the Army promises respite for the young recruit from a life at home full of setbacks where it seemed everything that could go wrong, did go wrong. Discharged from military service in Iraq, Dakotah returns home to Wyoming to the realisation that her past sufferings - at home and in Iraq - may pale in comparison with what her future holds in store..... Another modern story, "Family Man", recounts the recollections of old, 80+ ranch-hand Ray Forkenbrock, seeing out his days in a nursing home. But something weighing heavily on his mind rankles Ray : dirty laundry - an ugly family secret of an "old betrayal" he's kept bottled up inside himself for years.....
As well as recounting strange, ongoing occurrences of inexplicable disappearances of man and beast down the years, "The Sagebrush Kid" has a strong sense of the wheels of history turning as the winds of change swept through Wyoming - the stagecoach business consigned to history by the Union Pacific Railroad pushing through, old stage roads swallowed up in time by interstate highway, huge chunks of prairie vanishing under the drills of oil and gas exploration. This tall tale gives pause for thought.
Two stories, comic interludes really, are set in Hell - yes HELL! Outwith the bounds of Wyoming altogether! OUTSIDERS! Trespassers from Hell wandering like stray mavericks into country where they don't rightfully belong - and looking oddly out of place among prime stock. Range wars have broken out for less! Long-time followers of Annie Proulx's topnotch Wyoming stories, past and present, may view the stories from Hell as being out of kilter - interlopers into 'settled territory' that was fine just the way it was. After all, "who needs Hell when you've got Wyoming?"
Many of the stories are about sad, lonely or forgotten people. One of them is specifically about a couple (named Rose and Archie McClaverty) who buy a piece of land and then, through a series of events disappear and are forgotten.
The last story was the best, about a girl named Dakota, who is born to a mother that runs away just after she is born./ She is raised by her grandparents on a ranch. Eventually she marries, gets divorced, has a child and joins the military.