One of our best writers gives us her best book.

BAD DIRT

WYOMING STORIES 2

The much-honored author tightens her grip on the laureateship of western working-class America in this follow-up to Close Range: Wyoming Stories 1 (1999).

Here, again, Proulx limns the harshness of life in Wyoming (mainly in the mountain hamlet of Elk Tooth, site of three thriving saloons) in 11 unsparingly realistic stories. One of them, for instance, chronicles an arty New York couple’s eventual failure to adapt to the rugged surroundings they’d romanticized (“Man Crawling Out of Trees”); another depicts the renewed enmity between long-estranged siblings as they settle their recently deceased centenarian parents’ affairs (“Dump Junk”), rekindling unwelcome memories of “hard years . . . with their entanglement of emotional and money problems, vexing questions about the cosmos, the hereafter, the right way of things, and. . . the slow, wretched betrayals of the flesh.” Proulx’s genius for grim humor glows in wry tales about a beard-growing competition (“The Contest”), a geological malfunction that gives infernal aid to an overworked game-and-fish warden (“The Hellhole”), an ornery barmaid who deals with cattle illegally grazing her land by importing distinctly nonindigenous fellow critters (“Florida Rental”)—and even in the middling “Summer of the Hot Tubs” (predictably anecdotal, though it does make you wish Proulx had included her recipe for “son of a bitch stew”). Comparisons to Mark Twain are inevitable, but Proulx’s wiry sentences have more of the snap and crackle of vintage Ambrose Bierce, and the writer she really resembles most is Flannery O’Connor, as evidenced best in richly detailed accounts of a luckless drifter’s encounter with a violent white-trash “family” (“The Wamsutter Wolf”); of a young part-Sioux woman’s accidental discovery of a prosperous white family’s appropriation of her heritage (“The Indian Wars Refought”); and of a stubborn rancher who long outlives the wild old days, his youth, and all the opportunities he failed to grasp.

One of our best writers gives us her best book.

Pub Date: Nov. 30, 2004

ISBN: 0-7432-5799-5

Page Count: 240

Publisher: Scribner

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1, 2004

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BEYOND THE GREAT SNOW MOUNTAINS

Superb stylist L’Amour returns (End of the Drive, 1997, etc.), albeit posthumously, with ten stories never seen before in book form—and narrated in his usual hard-edged, close-cropped sentences, jutting up from under fierce blue skies. This is the first of four collections of L’Amour material expected from Bantam, edited by his daughter Angelique, featuring an eclectic mix of early historicals and adventure stories set in China, on the high seas, and in the boxing ring, all drawing from the author’s exploits as a carnival barker and from his mysterious and sundry travels. During this period, L’Amour was trying to break away from being a writer only of westerns. Also included is something of an update on Angelique’s progress with her father’s biography: i.e., a stunningly varied list of her father’s acquaintances from around the world whom she’d like to contact for her research. Meanwhile, in the title story here, a missionary’s daughter who crashes in northern Asia during the early years of the Sino-Japanese War is taken captive by a nomadic leader and kept as his wife for 15 years, until his death. When a plane lands, she must choose between taking her teenaged son back to civilization or leaving him alone with the nomads. In “By the Waters of San Tadeo,” set on the southern coast of Chile, Julie Marrat, whose father has just perished, is trapped in San Esteban, a gold field surrounded by impassable mountains, with only one inlet available for anyone’s escape. “Meeting at Falmouth,” a historical, takes place in January 1794 during a dreadful Atlantic storm: “Volleys of rain rattled along the cobblestones like a scattering of broken teeth.” In this a notorious American, unnamed until the last paragraph, helps Talleyrand flee to America. A master storyteller only whets the appetite for his next three volumes.

Pub Date: May 11, 1999

ISBN: 0-553-10963-4

Page Count: 288

Publisher: Bantam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 1999

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Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers...

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EXHALATION

Exploring humankind's place in the universe and the nature of humanity, many of the stories in this stellar collection focus on how technological advances can impact humanity’s evolutionary journey.

Chiang's (Stories of Your Life and Others, 2002) second collection begins with an instant classic, “The Merchant and the Alchemist’s Gate,” which won Hugo and Nebula awards for Best Novelette in 2008. A time-travel fantasy set largely in ancient Baghdad, the story follows fabric merchant Fuwaad ibn Abbas after he meets an alchemist who has crafted what is essentially a time portal. After hearing life-changing stories about others who have used the portal, he decides to go back in time to try to right a terrible wrong—and realizes, too late, that nothing can erase the past. Other standout selections include “The Lifecycle of Software Objects,” a story about a software tester who, over the course of a decade, struggles to keep a sentient digital entity alive; “The Great Silence,” which brilliantly questions the theory that humankind is the only intelligent race in the universe; and “Dacey’s Patent Automatic Nanny,” which chronicles the consequences of machines raising human children. But arguably the most profound story is "Exhalation" (which won the 2009 Hugo Award for Best Short Story), a heart-rending message and warning from a scientist of a highly advanced, but now extinct, race of mechanical beings from another universe. Although the being theorizes that all life will die when the universes reach “equilibrium,” its parting advice will resonate with everyone: “Contemplate the marvel that is existence, and rejoice that you are able to do so.”

Visionary speculative stories that will change the way readers see themselves and the world around them: This book delivers in a big way.

Pub Date: May 8, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-101-94788-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Feb. 17, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2019

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