Jul 23, 2016

Tom's Wyoming Evening

Men's book club group review discussion
Dinner and Acknowledgments

No one caters western barbecue like Tom.  Last Saturday, he invited 35 of us to his house for an evening of smoked chicken, barbecued ribs, and a very tender brisket.  The eating was spectacular and so was the setting.  With tables set outside (for sunset views over Peacock Gap) and inside (to avoid the evening chill blowing in from the Bay), and too many side dishes and beverages to count, we were overwhelmed by Tom's generous hospitality.  We were also delighted to see Dorothy, whose recovery we've been cheering these last few months. Thanks for a fine evening indeed, Tom.

Our Discussion and Review of Close Range:  Wyoming Stories

A mea culpa is in order.  In my zeal to catch up with with several men and their spouses, I set aside my notetaking, asked few questions, and came away with only fragments of conversations about Proulx's most famous short story collection.

The common refrain of those at my table was the repeated reference to the quality of Proulx's writing.  Her turn of phrase, her uncanny eye for detail, her ear for dialog, her evocation of a fragile masculinity--all were enjoyed in this stunning collection of stories about life on the range.  Naturally, most of us commented on Brokeback Mountain, whose famously homosexual story line obscures a larger, deeper narrative about love, loss, aging, and other timeless themes.  Everyone was moved by the joy and sadness of the story and the despair of its principal character, Ennis.  One of my many favorite lines was Proulx's quick description of the failure of Ennis' marriage:  "A slow corrosion worked between Ennis and Alma, no real trouble, just widening water."

Among the other stories mentioned by many was Blood Bay, the story of a cold winter night, a pair of finely-tooled boots, two amputated legs, a trio of cowpunchers, and a nervous host.  Everyone was taken by the story's spare dialog and abbreviated ending.  And almost everyone found in the opening story, The Half-Skinned Steer, the gradually building suspense that is the hallmark of fine short form fiction.  For her confident prose and relentless insight, we gave Proulx a much-deserved 8.4, which puts her in the Man Book Club pantheon of greats (well, our current Top Five list).

Next Up:  The North Water by Ian McGuire

For September's meeting, Armando, ever the water wonk, gave us several choices but winnowed them to two:  The Water Knife and The North Water.  While the former is explicitly set in a warming world with severe water shortages, the latter is its near opposite, with a cast of murderous sailors hunting whales off the coast of Greenland in 1859.  We chose Ian McGuire's cold, harsh world of predators--both natural and man-made.  Let's hope this most manly of adventure stories lives up to the hype that accompanied its publication earlier this year.