50/2015: Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx

WHAT IT IS: Bad Dirt is a collection of short stories by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Proulx. Many of the stories center around the small Wyoming town of Elk Tooth. The stories feature a vast array of interesting characters – state Game Wardens, uncomfortable New York transplants, vegetarian bartenders, and grotesque high school bullies all grown up – and describe problems they face and the interesting ways they solve—or don’t solve—these problems. These small-town dramas are all played against the backdrop of beautiful and cruel Wyoming landscape.

WHY I LIKE IT: Proulx uses a mixture of magical realism, desolate landscapes, and black humor to tell her stories. The stories themselves are all about deaths; they describe the actual bodily death of characters, the death of relationships, the death of the emotional self, and the death of the wild-west countryside and rancher lifestyle. They are about characters desperately trying to get themselves out of difficult situations – some of them with ingenious, creative solutions, and others with nothing but bad luck and even worse endings. However, even when things don’t work out for the characters they way they (or the reader) would want, Proulx adds just enough humor to keep us from giving up on them. Overall, I felt this was equal parts deeply sad and deeply funny.

WHY I READ IT: I found this book while aimlessly wandering through The Strand’s fiction section. As a result of my recent cross-country drive, I’ve lately been really interested in stories about the West and living in the western United States.

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