The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

By Wendel Sloan

Always amazed by well-crafted tales


November 26, 2017

Although the best fiction I’ve ever written is my resume, my lack of knack doesn’t stop me from being spellbound by wordsmith magicians birthing truth from lies.

As young Navy spies in the ’70s, Sheila Schelling and I became separated in the jungles of Guam. Since I barely survived the monsoon coconut hand-grenades, until she recently resurfaced on Facebook, I never knew if the Ogden Nash devotee had pulled a Robinson Crusoe.

After the North Carolina artist recommended reading Annie Proulx, 82, I figured I could trust the judgment of someone resourceful enough to have survived disco and jungle fever.

Unlike my jungle fiction, my book-of-the-month-summary for “Close Range: Wyoming Stories” (Simon & Schuster) is from a Pulitzer Prize winner (“The Shipping News”).

The best-known is “Brokeback Mountain,” but every tale about life in rural Wyoming is written with a masterful grittiness that makes the inhabitants’ worlds of loneliness, isolation, violence and desperate attempts at facsimiles of love seem autobiographical.

Although I can’t synopsize 11 stories in 500 words, here are excerpts of Proulx’s stark, dark, transcendent language (mostly) suitable for a Sunday audience:

• “He finished a pair of spurs with half-drop shanks in steel blued to the iridescent flush of ripe plums.”

• “The dazzled rope of lightning against the cloud is not the downward bolt, but the compelled upstroke through the heated ether.”

• “The house trailer I rented … was more of a camper you’d tow behind a car, so small you couldn’t cuss the cat without getting fur in your mouth.”

• “What he wanted to know now, tires spanking the tar-filled road cracks and potholes, funeral homburg sliding on the backseat, was if Rollo had got the girlfriend away from the old man, thrown a saddle on her and ridden off into the sunset?”

• “He’d come off that animal in a flying dismount, sparked a little clapping that quickly died; the watchers knew as well as he that if he burst into flames and sang an operatic aria after the whistle it would make no d@#$ difference.”

• “Only the endlessly repeated flood of morning light. You begin to see that God does not owe us much beyond that.”

• “The country appeared as empty ground, big sagebrush, rabbitbrush, intricate sky, flocks of small birds like packs of cards thrown up in the air, and a faint track drifting toward the red-walled horizon.”

• “He had … one of those big mustaches like a pair of blackbird wings.”

• “This instinct extends to anger, the lightning backhand slap, the hip-shot to throw you off balance, the elbow, a jerk and wrench, the swat, and then the serious stuff that’s meant to kill and sometimes does.”

• “In this dry, heated year the grass was already yellow-bronze, the dusty earth quivering with grasshoppers in chirring flight, heads and thoraxes marbled hazel and drab.”

• “All the travelin I ever done is goin around the coffeepot looking for the handle.”

• “The tea-colored river ran fast with snowmelt, a scarf of bubbles at every high rock, pools and setbacks streaming. The ochre-branched willows swayed stiffly, pollened catkins like yellow thumbprints.”

• “The arithmetic stood comfortable.”

• “That dozy embrace solidified in his memory as the single moment of artless, charmed happiness in their separate and difficult lives.”

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