Close Range: Wyoming Stories

by Annie Proulx

Hardcover, 1999

Call number




Scribner (1999), Edition: First Edition, 288 pages


A collection of stories set in Wyoming. They range from The Mud Below, on an itinerant rodeo cowboy, to People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water, which is on a family feud.

Media reviews

User reviews

LibraryThing member EBT1002
This is a series of short stories, the last of which is "Brokeback Mountain" (I still think it's pretty impressive that they made a movie with depth from a short story). Proulx's prose is delicious. Here are a couple of my favorites:

From "Pair a Spurs":
"The terrain of Scope himself consisted of a
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big, close-cropped head, platinum-blond mustache, a ruined back from a pneumatic drill ride on the back of a sunfishing, fence-cornering, tatter-eared pinto that John Wrench, two decades earlier, had correctly bet he couldn't stay on, feet wrecked from a lifetime in tight cowboy boots, and simian arms whose wrists no shirt cuffs would ever kiss."

And from "Brokeback Mountain" (actually, the last sentence of the story and the book):
"There was some open space between what he knew and what he tried to believe, but nothing could be done about it, and if you can't fix it you've got to stand it."

There is a cruel streak running through most of Proulx's male characters and the women are victims and survivors of life (and of their men's cruelty) with not a little toughness and backbone. I think "Brokeback Mountain" is an amazing short piece. In just 30 pages, we witness Ennis (and, to a lesser degree, Jack) evolve in complicated and believable directions.

A couple of the stories left me too frequently looking ahead to see how many pages I had to go until I could move on to the next one (lowering my rating), but all in all, I'd say this is a fine collection of stories about rodeo riders, cowboys, men, women, and the human desire to be both free and connected. That dual-edged desire, depicted from within the rough ethos of the rodeo culture, comes through as amazingly intact.
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LibraryThing member stacey2112
It's not that these stories aren't beautifully written. It's just that the whole thinng is unrelentingly cruel, hard, and ugly, and while I know life can be that way, there isn't the slightest glimmer of that beauty that life hands up every once in awhile, even in brutal, poor-ass Wyoming, that
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keeps you wanting to stay alive a little longer. My soul feels sandpapered.
This is the compilation that contains "Brokeback Mountain". I think that's the best story in here, but I've always found it flawed because of the pivotal scene of discovery by the wife - for FIVE years they've been going on "fishing" trips, but have never ONCE used the fishing gear?!? C'mon, you can only f**k so many times a day, & in between you're in some gorgeous fishing land. Problematic.
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LibraryThing member atheist_goat
Well worth reading, but do it one story at a time, spaced out with lighter stuff. When "Brokeback Mountain" is not the most depressing story in a collection, you must treat said collection with caution.
LibraryThing member whitewavedarling
Here's the thing: I would not recommend this book. HOWEVER, the one story which redeemed Proulx for me and also made me remember why I so loved Shipping News is the story that will make me keep this collection, and which I'll go back to: "Brokeback Mountain". I haven't seen the movie, so I can't
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speak to those similarities or differences, but this story, for me, was the only one that truly pulled together and gave real-feeling characters. The other stories often seemed to be more along the lines of character sketches, as long as some were, and I felt as if I was watching a short movie clip instead of being involved in a story. I rarely cared, and then only for moments, and I was often bored. I had heard that "Brokeback Mountain" was the best in the collection, but I didn't believe it would stand out quite so much. This story is quite literally on a different level entirely than the other work here, in character, writing, development, plot, structure, etc. I will admit that the structure of most of these stories was a disctraction. Some authors can move between scenes often and quickly, and it works. In most of these stories, it didn't work. Sometimes confusing and sometimes jarring, many of the text breaks here were more frustrating than anything--the moment I would begin to get interested, Proulx would jumpt to yet another character. Yet, "Brokeback Mountain" reminded me why I loved Shipping News so much, so this won't be my last look at Proulx' work--but I won't go back to most of these stories. You might read one to get the effect, but I feel like once you've read one, you've very nearly gotten the feeling of most of them, in spirit and theme at least.
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LibraryThing member redcedar
this book is one of the most beautifully written collection of short stories i have ever read. proulx turns an incredible array of phrases and metaphors into the stories of cowboys and bullriders, ranch-hands and lovers of the prairie from the 1800s to the present day. her deftness with language is
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paralleled only by her obvious love and knowledge of the land about which she writes.
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LibraryThing member Notesmusings
Wyoming is the scene for 11 short stories of family and personal life, told in spare but often poetic style.

In 'The half skinned steer' a rather dried-up and nasty man has emerged from his hick Wyoming background to an old age of prosperity, exercise bikes and austere diets. News of his brother's
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death and forthcoming funeral entices him on a trip back to the old ranch. In his ornery way, resisting his advanced years, he chooses to drive there. As a result it becomes a spiritual journey into his own childhood and his own heart. The story was inspired by an Icelandic legend.

'The mud below' tells of a short young man despised by his mother, who strains to find accomplishment and intense experience. The search is distorted by self-hatred. 'Job history' is a personal life trajectory drawing vaguely and mischievously on the form of the career curriculum vitae. It points out how often people get screwed when they take the free-market dream seriously enough to set up small businesses. 'The blood bay' is a folksy historical yarn that offers some light relief, before 'People in Hell just want a drink of water', where a damaged young man encounters Wyoming at its worst. In 'The bunchgrass end of the world' a thickset young woman temporarily goes off her rocker from loneliness and isolation, unless you prefer to see the tale as one of the author's departures from realism. 'Pair a spurs', one of my favourites, has a treasury of characters. It takes up two of the author's main themes: the growing failure of the small ranch as a business model, and the clash between stupid-yet-knowing rednecks and cashed-up, knowing-yet-stupid city folk (already well explored in her Proulx's earlier collection of about New England, Heart Songs). After that a group of ageing women, their lives rapidly burning up, work the Wyoming bar scene in 'A lonely coast'.

Political and economic forces are vague at first, like the silhouettes of machinery seen through ripples of overheated air, but they come into focus in the latter part of the collection. 'The Governors of Wyoming' tells the story of the state's twisted development, as interpreted by a twisted environmentalist and his accomplice. It draws the collection together in terms of its message, but artistically was less satisfying to me than the preceding pieces. '55 miles to the gas pump' is darker again. The collection is rounded out by 'Brokeback Mountain', of film fame.
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LibraryThing member seasidereader
I normally have a hard time digesting short stories -- not enough time for character or plot development -- and consider this genre extremely difficult to write successfully. This is my first Annie Proulx, and yes, I wanted to read Brokeback Mountain before seeing the screen adaptation. While
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compelling, it wasn't even the standout in this collection of gritty and unprettyfied portrayals of the hard life of ranching, farming, rodeoing -- keeping body & soul together on a thin margin on harsh land.
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LibraryThing member DaveCullen
Oddly enough, the book containing Annie Proulx's masterpiece, "Brokeback Mountain," was mostly a dud.

I did not finish the book. Most of the stories were uninvolving and often unconvincing.
LibraryThing member hazzabamboo
In the 2006 edition I read, 'Brokeback Mountain' was the final story. It made sense of several things: why the collection had been so strongly recommended to me; why that story was chosen for adaptation into a film; and why Proulx has (subsequently) been rated highly as a North American writer. The
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other stories are not in the same class, not in terms of craft, certainly not in terms of poignancy.

That said, there are images and sentences, passages and whole stories with undeniable power, normally thanks to their violence or otherworldliness on the one hand, or their feeling for the harshness of the Wyoming Proulx depicts on the other. 'The Half-Skinned Steer' and '55 Miles to the Gas Pump' are certainly memorable, in different ways and for different reasons.

Nonetheless, as a whole, this collection is not short of cliches, and Proulx is apt to resort to the grotesque. I would recommend reading 'Brokeback Mountain' alone, and I would recommend it to anyone - as for the rest, have the discipline (and faith in a stranger on the internet you've no reason to believe!) to resist, unless you're prepared to settle for lower quality in return for quantity.
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LibraryThing member SugarCreekRanch
Close Range is a collection of short stories set in Wyoming. These stories feature very powerful prose, but there is so much bleakness, meanness, and violence that I really didn't enjoy it. These are not the soft-spoken, chivalrous cowboys that I know and admire.
LibraryThing member crimson-tide
This collection impressed and moved me. Such truly powerful writing. Bleak, windswept, violent, hard lives so foreign to my own, and yet it was impossible not to be drawn into their worlds.
LibraryThing member vesuvian
Some time in 1993 or 1994, I think (after the new editors took over "The New Yorker"), I sat down and started to read. After the casuals and humor piece, there appeared a story about cowboys. I stayed with it for a while based on the author's reputation, yet was ready to bail. And then it hit: the
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cowboys were Doing It. I was hooked. Anyway, I've read other work by Proulx since and have found her to capture the feeling and color of the American West, or at least what I know of it.
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LibraryThing member trinityofone
Should actually be subtitled "Why Not to Live in Wyoming." Seriously, this is one of the most depressing collections of short stories I've ever encountered. Which is not to say they're not *good*, just that I'd kind of like to challenge Proulx to write a bit of light comedy or something.

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Mountain" *is* the best, and I actually find the story much more evocative and powerful than the film. (Not that Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger making out is anything to sneeze at, mind.) Still, I'm glad I got a copy pre- tie-in cover and title change. I'm shallow, and I really hate that.
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LibraryThing member evanroskos
I enjoyed some of this collection. Proulx's style, as always, takes a bit to 'work' with my brain. and yet there is a relative simplicity to Brokeback Mountain that makes it seem like a separate world from the other stories. Or at least a separate narrator.

still, Proulx continues to fascinate me
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and I will probably pick up the sequel collection.
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LibraryThing member sassafras
Short story from which the movie is based. Story takes place over a 20 year period about how Jack and Ennis meet and then try to maintain their relationship. A relationship which they can't really explain, but yet can't give up.
LibraryThing member mojacobs
Wyoming stories about poor ranchers. Beautifully written, but 200 pages about loveless and hopeless lives, failure, poverty, cruelty etc. and the same message ("What's the point?") every time , gets a bit too much for me. My husband loved it though.
LibraryThing member riverwillow
This is about as near a perfect short story as I have read. It feels like a prose poem where Annie Proulx has slaved over the placing of every word in order to convey rich emotion in a sparse environment. Loved it.
LibraryThing member BBrthlm
Anyway, I'm not sure I like being manipulated so easily.

I am curious to know how Proulx managed it. Has she written the
greatest short story since the Mid-Century anthology?

What tricks did she employ? What does she know about the gut-punch Objective-Correlative and how to set it up that makes me
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Was it sentimentality, was it formulaic at all? Does anyone think that the gay-men writers were envious of the success of her short story? A little stinting in their praise? Is Proulx the greater Artist as I suspect; I don't believe her audience is homosexual men...and anyway why a story sentimentalizing them? Well, she's no panderer.

Could it be Art?

Andrew Holleran calls BBM her "masterpiece", with the quotation marks. Another gay critic wonders that a woman could pull off such an achievement ... These guys pretend to not know how she managed it. What am I missing here? One of them said he saw the story in the New Yorker, that it was about gay cowboys and so he skipped over it! Is this believable? A gay man who writes stories for a gay audience skips over Proulx' story in the New Yorker!

Paraphrasing him---

--------What in the story seems 'flat' is fully achieved by these (male models) in this 'moving' picture!

Of the movie, he says, "I stand as a writer, in awe......" Am I to believe this? Later, when he got around to reading the story, he says "it read like a screenplay." Now that's a backhanded compliment, or something. (The filmscript is awful; they all are when read. But the story reads like Aeschylus.)

I'm just as susceptible to male pulchritude as the next guy but that's over the top. He was paid to review a movie, not wax poetic about Annie's artistic achievement. (Oh I see how it served his purpose; love the movie for his gay audience while getting paid, and stint the achievement of his fellow writer! Not very generous. But then Annie is not pandering, Not his fellow at all.)

Holleran's looking a little “pink” to me. Thanks to Annie, it is clear: He has a pink-stink about him. I now see that he is more Gay than he is human. I don't get it. It must be gay-politics, or gay-diction, maybe it's speaking down to a younger generation. He's not stupid. Maybe he thinks we're stupid. Abysmal. I think he wants to sell me something.

It's Art, isn't it? Art has rules, doesn't it?

Proulx story is Life-Enhancing. How does she do this?

Her characters are not Victims, and they're not repressed,
nor 'inhibited'. They are 'limited', and in the middle-of-nowhere-in-particular. Twist was not murdered. That theme only exists as the motive-force in Ennis' mind: Ennis has a Bogyman. Get it?

The Artist, God-like, Practises Her Craft.

Proulx violently killed Jack and impoverished Ennis. Then she showed Ennis that his life was behind him now. He can die or, live out his span....a survivor: It doesn't matter. The Artist has finished with them; she has told their story. Her purpose is accomplished.

She has not written a victimology. She has lifted Ennis and Jack, and ennobled them. And, incidentally, made gay-men Human.

Her achievement surpassses the creative limitations of Edmund White and Holloran.
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LibraryThing member campingmomma
I have to say I was really intrigued by "55 Miles to the Gas Pump". How I wish it was far more than 3 or 4 pages! All of the stories are never long enough though. The author slowly builds the story with the charactors and intimate details of their lives and the landscape only to end the story at
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the climax. I am grateful that all the stories usually have some sort of conclusion, but I really wish they were books and not short stories.
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LibraryThing member bobsegerini
I think this is Proulx's natural form. The gritty, rugged tales of the midwest rang true.
LibraryThing member lmnop2652
Not a short story fan, but a lover of Wyoming, cowboys, and Annie Proulx's writing, picking up this book was inevitable. Proulx did not disappoint. With such well-defined characters and scenery, the author had me seeing the tales, not reading them.
LibraryThing member xtien
This book contains the story "Brokeback Mountain". It also contains, as the first story, "The half skinned steer" that was the best short story of 1998 (Garrison Keillor) and the best short story of the century (John Updike).

I haven't seen the film "Brokeback Mountain", but I doubt it's as good as
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the story. The story, I like.
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LibraryThing member CorvusOrru
I made a point, when buying my own copy of this collection of short stories, not to buy the edition advertising the film of Brokeback Mountain. This particular story had always been my least favourite of the whole, and the film just intensified these feelings - after all, a story written by a
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straight woman made into a film directed by a straight man with the leading roles played by two very straight actors? Now if some prominent or undiscovered members have the LGBTQ society had been commissioned for this instead...

Nevertheless, Brokeback aside, this is a fantastic collection. The rough spirit of Wyoming is powerfully evoked through Ms Proulx's beautifully scattered/clipped style of writing, her little observations and the way she delves into her characters' lives, teasing out their personalities and their (all too numerous) miseries. With gems like The Half-Skinned Steer this is a must-have for every library. Just tactfully remove the last thirty or so pages and replace them with some nice Timothy Conigrave.
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LibraryThing member Kate_JJM
It was an experience to read this right after finishing the Dave Eggers book of short stories... the two mixed and mingled in my head in a way that was rather pleasant.
LibraryThing member rosechimera
I got half way through before deciding I have little interest in what occurs in Wyoming. I liked Broke Back and Shipping News (Newfoundland) , but in this collection you are given a short time to care about and become invested in the characters, and I failed to make the deadline. Not only did I
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fail to become invested, but I felt sort of morose about them like when reading Cormac McCarthy. In short Wyoming makes me feel sad and detached.
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