Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Caught by Surprise


In Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx's spare and capable prose delivers the story of cowboys Jack and Ennis who, working one summer on a remote range, fall into a love affair that they both underestimate. It's impossible for them to imagine any other way of being together except occasionally and in secret. Over the years, they deny their bond, even as they continue to meet infrequently while marrying, becoming fathers, and pursuing the hard life of ranch hands.

Proulx has an ear for dialog and an eye for detail, giving the story many dramatic moments that display to the reader what Jack and Ennis seem unable to recognize, given their culture and their own prejudices. As just one example, when they meet again after a four-year absence, their clinch and kiss of reunion is witnessed by Ennis's wife Alma, who closes the door, waits, then reopens it carefully, making sure the coast is clear. Proulx tells all with understatement: "She had seen what she had seen." 

I suppose there's no one left who doesn't know this story, thanks to the popularity of the movie. Still, it took me by surprise: a tale of love full of lies and half-truths and full-on truths that make you squint in their glare, as harsh, tender, and lasting as the land that frames it.

Excerpt:

"Well, see you around, I guess." The wind tumbled an empty feed bag down the street until it fetched up under his truck.

"Right," said Jack, and they shook hands, hit each other on the shoulder, then there was forty feet of distance between them and nothing to do but drive away in opposite directions. Within a mile Ennis felt like someone was pulling his guts out hand over hand a yard at a time. He stopped at the side of the road and, in the whirling new snow, tried to puke but nothing came up. He felt about as bad as he ever had and it took a long time for the feeling to wear off.

Note: This book counts for the 52 Books in 52 Weeks challenge and the Where are You Reading? Reading Challenge (W for Wyoming).

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