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Posted: February 9, 2020

How can one not love this woman?

Book Review

By Derryll White

Proulx, Annie (2011).  Bird Cloud.

I was excited to get this book. I consider Annie Proulx the best enunciator of place since Charles Olson. Her Wyoming stories never fail to excite in me feelings and thoughts that make the days I am reading them a little extra special. She has the ability to step out of space and time and see the particular in its uniqueness. She presumes little and explores widely. She writes the western vernacular as no other woman I have read, a natural inhabitant of the high lonesome. She constantly looks for roots, “for the present as… an event already buried in the archives of the past.” Books are very important to her. How can one not love this woman?

Annie Proulx reveals herself in this book in ways that help provide access to her other writings. She is direct and honest, saying things that sometimes surprise me, such as not trusting the tricks of memory. Building a house which is a library surrounding bedrooms and kitchen speaks to her desire to get things right, to not play loose with truth or time.  But she recalls much which reveals the gradual creation of the consummate writer she now is. She is tough on her roots, recognizing the fickle fate revealed by genealogical research and to her credit ducking none of it. Annie Proulx takes the world and her family straight on in ‘Bird Cloud,’ with love and candor.

The book is also a treatise on natural history, offering such compelling facts as that the Latin name for the mountain pine beatle, Dendroctronus ponderosae, translates as ‘true killer.’ Her extensive flights into the natural history realm invite the reader to embrace the idea that he or she is a part of a huge inter-related loop. It is, I am sure, a foreign idea to many of her urban readers, but Annie Proulx is delightfully persuasive.

I would encourage any inquiring mind to read this book.

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Excerpts from the book:

TIME – “The fault in the cliff is a reminder that the earth is in slow, constant flux, inexorably shoving continental plates together, pulling them apart, making new oceans and enormous supercontinents, a vast new Pangaea Proxima predicted hundreds of millions of years from now, long after our species has exited the scene.”

AMERICA – “His perpetual toast – ‘here’s to bigger and better jobs and more money’ – was one man’s version of the American dream.”

PERSPECTIVE – “History seized me a long time ago.”

AMERICA – “The American experience, the focus on individual achievement, the acquisition of goods and money to prove one’s social value, is built on this sense of loss, this alienation from the warmth of the home culture, isolation from genetic bonds.”

RASQUACHE – “The negative meaning is of poor, low-class, uneducated, disorganized and dirty people.  The other meaning has been adopted by art critics to describe a vigorous Chicano sensibility, expressing resistance, resourcefulness and adaptability, irony and defiant energy.”

– Derryll White once wrote books but now chooses to read and write about them.  When not reading he writes history for the web at www.basininstitute.org.


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