01 August 2006

West Texas.

I just finished Annie Proulx's novel That Old Ace in the Hole, and my reading of it coincided with salon's unofficial compilation of some good books set in and about West Texas. I'd recommend this one as an addition. Proulx knows cowboys (we know that from Brokeback folks, which pretty much had no dialogue she didn't write in the short story), and she does her research. My one caveat for the book is that at times it does read like a series of short stories. But don't let that deter you. She's a great short story writer.

The book hits close to home because its protagonist grew up in Denver, probably about the time I did from the references the book makes, and that's eerie. For someone who lives in Wyoming to paint a spot-on portrait of Colfax Ave is a bit unnerving. So for Proulx research means immersing yourself in the stories of the place. Wallowing in them until they transform into your own story, and then weaving those stories together into something larger, bigger, a full-scale image of a place. She's done that in this book, and so I recommend it to those with an interest in what makes miles of flatter than flat land interesting (and oh it's interesting), for those interested in global economic forces and how they affect the little guy, for those who crave a description of the best pineapple crumble you've ever heard of, and for those who might have some connection with Denver or West Texas.

The core of the book is about lying, I think. Maybe one of the core elements is about lying. That's more accurate. Lying in all its various guises, from the mild embellishing of a story through the politely accommodating an out-of-wedlock pregnancy on to flat out, bald faced lies. Lies about what we're doing, about who we are, about the truth that's happening around us. And Proulx separates lying, interestingly enough, from living your life honestly. It's not that she supports living a lie. Quite the opposite. It's that she sees how prevarication might get you someplace, allow you to tell a story or hear a story that's important. And then it might even nudge you out of that lie into a space of honesty. Very very cool.

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