Who’s the most famous writer you’ve never read? I can think of a few offhand, but now I can cross one off the list: Annie Proulx. A good friend sent me a book of her short stories the other day: “Fine Just the Way it Is.” I’m about halfway through it. I love that title. I like her style.
Yeah, I know. Everyone plus dog has read and raved about Proulx’s Pulitzer-winning “The Shipping News.” That book is 30 years old now; you’d think I might have made time for it at some point. Nope. Mea culpa. But on the strength of the stories I’ve read so far, I did check it out at the library yesterday.
My only previous experience with Annie Proulx was the movie, “Brokeback Mountain.” I didn’t care for it. My wife would say I was put off by the whole gay-cowboy thing, but I think the transition to film may have taken some nuance and authenticity out of the original work. OK, maybe I wasn’t crazy about watching the cowboys (sheepboys?) go at it. I’m always a little squeamish about movie sex. But the movie just didn’t ring as true to me as these few stories I’ve read.
I grew up in rural Montana and was part of a ranch family from age 12 to about 18. That is my frame of reference when I read stories about the West, new or old. It has nothing to do with stuff like “The Horse Whisperer,” where everybody is good-looking and dresses in unstained Western wear and is full of laconic cowboy wisdom.
On a real ranch, you wear rubber boots and coveralls much of the time, and you’re more likely to be shoveling out a ditch or a chicken house than riding the range. Such wisdom you find can verge mighty close to cliche. Annie Proulx seems to get that. I like stories about the West that don’t try to romanticize it.
Anyone else discover a famous writer late in life? Let me know.