Postcards, Annie Proulx award winning novel (or rather one of her award winning novels), was on my list of “to be reads” works. Somewhere in the throes of writing my novel, Postcards from Wonderland, I gave it a go. Reviews called Proulx’s writing dense. I called it impenetrable and left it unfinished after slogging through the first fifty pages.
Later, preparing for a trip to Newfoundland and Labrador, our tour company offered a list of recommended reading, including Proulx’s The Shipping News. I opted to try again. It was that or several tomes of equally dense and story-deprived treatises on flora and fauna.
Whether it was a matter of timing, or a desire to learn about the destination, or the story itself, I can’t say. But this time around, I was sucked in and pulled under the cold northern seas by Proulx’s spare-plain spoken-unvarnished on the one hand and intricate on the other voice. It is like nothing else I’ve read.
Having dog-eared and marked so many passages to capture I have difficulty deciding which snippet embodies her style the best. Perhaps it is her description of place — on an interview Proulx said,
From one page:
“The sun laid topaz wash over barrens.”
“The sea flickered.”
“The sea glowed, transparent with light.”
“The sea hissed.”
“The ocean twitched like a vast cloth spread over snakes.”
Beyond the pain-staking choice of words and architecture of her sentences and paragraphs, are the obvious disregard for convention. A fair percentage of her sentences are not sentences but broken pieces that work and, to me, define her style.
“On the horizon icebergs like white prisons. The immense blue fabric of the sea, rumpled and creased.”
So, who is Annie Proulx. American. At home in wide open spaces, like Wyoming where she maintains a ranch. Wyoming is the setting for Brokeback Mountain, a short story she wrote that became a much misunderstood movie, according to her interview. She claims to prefer short stories to novels, the former being harder to craft for the limitations of word count.
Proulx is almost a contemporary, having published her first short stories in her fifties (there is hope yet). As a product our shared times, she’s appropriately brash and irreverent, scoffing at an interviewer’s pat questions, marrying and divorcing several times. In the interview by the Paris Review, Proulx says, “I am not a person who works well with others… The writing life is a perfect life for me. I can do my own thing…”
I’m a fan. Will I try Postcards again? Probably not. Like Annie Proulx, I am an omnivorous reader with a long, long to be read list.