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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Annie Proulx's Song

"You fill up my senses," wrote John Denver in "Annie's Song." It was a song meant for another Annie, yet his words could be my words when it comes to how I feel about Annie Proulx's stories. I haven't read everything she's written, notably her Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, The Shipping News; however her short stories blow me away.

I began reading her work in earnest after I found out she'd written the short story, "Brokeback Mountain," and that was after I'd seen the movie. I've been reading everything I can get my hands on about westering while doing research for my novel-in-progress, a story inspired by my great-grandmother who moved to Colorado when the West was still wild.

Topping my list of writers of the West is Annie Proulx followed by Louis L'amour (he's not as hokey as you might think), and Wallace Stegner. Annie Proulx has the courage to write about life in the West as it was and is. No sugar-coating from this author. Louis L'amour was guilty of including a lot of stereotypes, but he was a great story teller. Wallace Stegner, another Pulitzer Prize winner, wrote about relationships and how living in the West changed people. My favorite piece, out of everything I've read by these authors, is Annie Proulx's short story, "Them Old Cowboy Songs." It staggers me every time I read it.

I don't have Annie Proulx's courage, but I've learned from her to avoid stereotypes--no Indians attacking isolated settlers, no gunfights in my novel. Instead I'm writing about a young woman who leaves a privileged upbringing in Philadelphia for a hard but satisfying life in the Rockies. When finished, my novel won't be as gut-level real as if Annie Proulx had written it; however it may move some of my readers to kiss their modern appliances.

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