Executive Times






2008 Book Reviews


Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 by Annie Proulx








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The nine short stories in Annie Proulx’ latest collection, Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3, are packed with characters and descriptions and solid prose that will delight most readers. Even the devil makes an appearance. These stories, like the title of one, are fine just the way they are. Here’s an excerpt, from the story titled, “Them Old Cowboy Songs,” pp. 49-50:


A parade of saddle bums drifted through the Peck bunkhouse and from an early age Archie listened to the songs they sang. He was a quick study for a tune, had a memory for rhymes, verses and intonations. When Mrs. Peck went to the land of no breakfast forever, caught in a grass conflagration she started while singeing slaughtered chickens, Archie was fourteen and Bunk in his early twenties. Without Mrs. Peck as buffer, the relationship became one of hired hand and boss. There had never been any sense of kinship, fictive or otherwise, between them. Especially did Bunk Peck burn over the hundred dollars his mother left Archie in her will.

Everyone in the sparsely settled country was noted for some salty dog quirk or talent. Chay Sump had a way with the Utes, and it was to him people went when they needed fine tanned hides. Lightning Willy, after incessant practice, shot both pistol and carbine accurately from the waist, seemingly without aiming. Bible Bob possessed a nose for gold on the strength of his discov­ery of promising color high on the slope of Singlebit Peak. And Archie McLaverty had a singing voice that once heard was never forgotten. It was a straight, hard voice, the words falling out halfway between a shout and a song. Sad and flat and without ornamentation, it expressed things felt but unsayable. He sang plain and square-cut, "Brandy's brandy, any way you mix it, a Texian's a Texian any way you fix it," and the listeners laughed at the droll way he rolled out "fix it," the words surely meaning cas­tration. And when he moved into "The Old North Trail," laconic and a little hoarse, people got set for half an hour of the true his­tory they all knew as he made his way through countless verses. He could sing every song "Go Long Blue Dog," and "When the Green Grass Comes," "Don't Pull off My Boots," and "Two Quarts of Whiskey," and at all-male roundup nights he had endless verses of "The Stinkin Cow," "The Buckskin Shirt" and "Cousin Harry." He courted Rose singing "never marry no good­for-nothin boy," the boy understood to be himself, the "good-for­nothin" a disclaimer. Later, with winks and innuendo, he sang, "Little girl, for safety you better get branded . . ."

Archie, advised by an ex-homesteader working for Bunk Peck, used his inheritance from Mrs. Peck to buy eighty acres of private land. It would have cost nothing if they had filed for a homestead twice that size on public land, or eight times larger on desert land, but Archie feared the government would discover he was a minor, nor did he want a five-year burden of obligatory cultivation and irrigation. Since he had never expected anything from Mrs. Peck, buying the land with the surprise legacy seemed like getting it for free. And it was immediately theirs with no strings attached. Archie, thrilled to be a landowner, told Rose he had to sing the metes and bounds. He started on the southwest corner and headed east. It was something he reckoned had to be done. Rose walked along with him at the beginning and even tried to sing with him but got out of breath from walking so fast and singing at the same time. Nor did she know the words to many of his songs. Archie kept going. It took him hours. Late in the afternoon he was on the west line, drawing near and still singing though his voice was raspy, "an we'll go downtown, an we'll buy some shirts . . .," and slouching down the slope the last hundred feet in the evening dusk so worn of voice she could hardly hear him breathily half-chant "never had a nickel and I don't give a shit."


Life is hard and Proulx captures life at its best in her stories. Enjoy Fine Just the Way It Is.


Steve Hopkins, October 20, 2008



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the November 2008 issue of Executive Times


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