Before she wrote her Pulitzer Prize-winning bestseller The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx was already producing some of the finest short fiction in the country. Here are her collected stories, including two new works never before anthologized. These stories reverberate with rural tradition, the rites of nature, and the rituals of small-town life. The country is blue-collar New England; the characters are native families and the dispossessed working class, whose heritage is challenged by the neorural bourgeoisie from the city; and the themes are as elemental as the landscape: revenge, malice, greed, passion. Told with skill and profundity and crafted by a master storyteller, these are lean, tough tales of an extraordinary place and its people.
A strong theme threading through several stories is the clash of values of two very different worlds: the world of wealthy outsiders from the city who come with their soft hands and soft bellies sporting their flash hunting gear and brand new boots -their rifles new and shiny, just like their cars - bringlng unwelcome improvements impinging on the land, customs and traditions of the poor rural community. My personal favourite of the collection is Stone City: a hunter stumbles on a remote, derelict farm high up on the snow-covered wooded hillsides but senses an atmosphere of evil pervading the abandoned ruin, Stone City, once owned by the Stone family, old man Stone and his brood of wild, unruly offspring. Gradually, more shocking revelations about the Stones and the grim past of Stone City come to light. Try also Annie Proulx's other superb short story collection of Wyoming stories, Close Range. Both books highly recommended!
In “Heart Songs and Other Stories,” a collection published in 1995, Proulx explores both the traditions of these backwoods areas and families, and also the myriad ways in which the modern world is intruding and changing traditional ways. In writing about rural areas, a sense of romanticism is often evident, but not here. Proulx’s writing is clear-eyed and unsentimental about the people and places she is describing, while her language manages to be both lyrical and vivid. She is at her strongest when relating the details of the quotidian. The stories, like the people in them, simmer with emotions deep below the surface, but are outwardly reserved and undemonstrative. Standouts include the title story, “Stone City,” and “Negatives.”
Proulx's desciptive phrases create vivid mental images: "the resinous odor of kindling catching fire", "the brainless rasp of cicadas, as irritating as burrs", "the patinated words gliding under his eyes like a river coursing over polished stones", "tendrils of hot grouse scent lying on the moist air as solidly as cucumber vines on the garden earth"...there is a wealth of phrases in every story.
I enjoy reading about good people: Santee, in "The Unclouded Day", with his strong sense of what is right; the acceptance of their lives shown by the family in "A Run of Bad Luck", where Clover draws strength from sitting next to his father, Mae can appreciate the way her husband Haylett "never let her or anyone get into a cold truck and sit shivering while the engine bleated and failed" even tho he doesn't say much to her or look her in the eye. Haylett is wise enough to see that his older son isn't just having a run of bad luck but "It's his life. It's the way his life is turnin' out, and he don't know it yet."
The strong point of the stories is the descriptive ability of the author. She is able to summon a picture of a place, a time, or a type of person very deftly.