Waiting, waiting, and while I wait, I read. Just finished E. Annie Proulx ‘That Old Ace in the Hole’ and again, it was time well spent. Ms. Proulx took me and protagonist Bob Dollar on an extensive tour of the Texas Pandhandle and introduced me a to a way of life of a section of America which the other, more cosmopolitan and modern sections take to parodying, ridiculing and outrightly mocking: redneck cowboys, cattle rustlers, community mothers, and small-town social climbers.
What I love about Ms. Proulx’s books is how she describes her characters so extensively, yet not cloyingly: their little habits and idiosyncrasies, how they think the way they do and why, how they look and dress, how they eat and sleep. And the details are both banal and interesting, mundane and unique. Because she makes her characters live and breath, they are imperfect and hence representative members of humanity, and they are all trying to make sense of the world in their own ways. They are hardly intellectuals, but some of them are sharp in the same way that pins are sharp:they can prick things and make you bleed.
She also paints pictures of context — the grass is not only green, but each blade of it is cover for gophers or medicine for cats with tummy aches. A plain field is full of various machinery in topsy turvy positions, and everything looks like a giant hand playfully arranged them there. A cowboy is more than his hat, his spurs and neckerchief: they are tall and some of them have faces like a bread loaf crumbling in high noon; or when they sing, their voices can be rough like rocks or smooth like newly separated cream. They way she describes places or objects are stories unto themselves because she doesn’t merely say that the windmill is made of steel, but she says how the feel of the tower can send electric shocks up your arm on a windy day and the sand is blowing full force.
Unapologetic, that’s what she is. She has no characters that are completely flawed or completely perfect. Each person, man, woman, child is a product of personal history that seemingly existed even before Ms. Proulx described them. They have likes and dislikes and biases and stupid fears and lovable traits. Ms. Proulx is a story-teller, and it’s like she’s telling her stories right as they happened.
She can also break your heart and it’s a gentle kind of breaking. Bit by bit, you learn to be comfortable with the people in her stories and you begin to wish them well (or agitate that they get their comeuppance for some annoying misdeed committed) and then something happens — they are struck with some tragedy, whether its minor or major, and you begin to worry for their plight.
In ‘That Old Ace in the Hole,’ Bob is desperate to secure a commitment for his employer Global Pork Rind, but to wish Bob well (because he is, after all, a very likeable and earnest young man) would mean success for those awful hog harms where pigs are maltreated and abused and the stench and ammonia fumes are more than enough to send one to the hospital with various respiratory diseases. You are torn between seeing Bob succeed and hoping that he fails.In the meantime, you wait and learn things along the way even as Bob waits and learns from his new acquaintances and experiences.
The first Annie Prould book I read was ‘The Shipping News and I was in awe at how simple yet beautiful her storytelling was. No pretentious language, but words hale and hearty, chunky and beefy even when describing the most fragile things like crystal filigree and heartbroken women with a shy way of walking. Her prose is lyrical but stout and healthy — it feeds you and it feeds your imagination and wherever it is that she wants to take you is the best place to be because even in their desolation or quiet, she is able to show beauty.
Even in the plain Quoyle she created a hero. Oh he wasn’t a hero in any Superman sense, not even an activist or anything like that, but a hero all the same. Quoyle was a father with two little daughters and he struggled to pick up the pieces of his heart as he tried to build a new life in a place where he knew no one. He dared not to hope, but at least he took courage, and he made do with what he had, and wished for the best. I call that heroism — having the strength to get up when all you want to do is die because you love your children and you know that the time will come when the days won’t be as bad as the day that made you want to die. A simple man with simple dreams, Quoyle; but his dreams were beautiful because they were full of love for his family and affection and concern for his friends and so he aimed to do his best even with mediocre jobs. This is what made him a good man, and a good man, in any day and age is a hero.
So I’m waiting and waiting and sometimes the waiting is unbearable because patience has never really been my strong suit. I am glad that I have E. Annie Proulx to keep me company, and I can travel with her and learn from her and her narrative is never boring just as her stories are always interesting — they are written like real experiences, and really, what else is more interesting than other peoples lives?