three-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
51-Mar-Apr-2011
By: 
Annie Proulx
user_rating: 
0

A Memoir

A-Bird CloudFew writers capture the sense of place like Annie Proulx. Best known for Postcards (1992), the Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award–winning The Shipping News (1993), and the short story "Brokeback Mountain" (1997), which was made into a major motion picture, Proulx here reflects on the construction of her dream home. Reviewed: Bad Dirt ( 3 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2005) and Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories (3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2008).

The Topic: Several years ago, Annie Proulx purchased a 640-acre wildlife-rich property abutting the North Platte River in southern Wyoming, accessible only by a one-lane dirt road in the best of weather. "The property," she writes, "was beautiful and unique, remote and powerful, and I fell for it, hard." Bird Cloud follows Proulx's terrific efforts to build "Bird Cloud," a complex, expensive dream home and panacea to an itinerant childhood. Her story about contractors, architects, artisan cabinetmakers, solar panels, and permits frames a larger narrative of place and people, including local geology and archaeology, Native American history, 19th-century riverboat captains, and local bird life. But at heart, Bird Cloud is an elegiac tribute to a home, carved out of a marvelous, unforgiving landscape.
Scribner. 234 pages. $26. ISBN: 9780743288804

San Francisco Chronicle 4.5 of 5 Stars
"I could say that Annie Proulx's Cloud Bird is a fascinating book written in razor-sharp prose that doesn't waste the reader's time and that it will draw in anyone who has ever thought about building their dream house, or has actually lived in their dream house, or just lived in any kind of house at all. But that would be only a piece of the story." Tim Gautreaux

Minneapolis Star Tribune 4 of 5 Stars
"In the classic style of Proulx, there are sensuous passages describing the wildlife (especially the birds) she encounters on regular walks and cross-country skiing jaunts. In a couple of the book's more rewarding passages, Proulx manages to capture the euphoria that can, on occasion, bubble up when a person experiences such natural beauty." Christy DeSmith

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"Circling, winding, stretching, and compressing, Bird Cloud jumps from place to place and time to time with a startling and often confusing license. The author has taken the opportunity in Bird Cloud to indulge all her interests. ... Proulx's outrage at the awesome damage wrought on the American West by European settlement gives much of the book its frenetic energy, but also leads her into some familiar rants and tired judgments." Alec Solomita

NY Times Book Review 2 of 5 Stars
"A chronicle of Proulx's experiences trying to build a house on 640 acres of nature preserve she calls Bird Cloud, it is dominated by the unfiltered agonizing of someone who has taken on a regrettable real estate venture. ... What Proulx has brought so generously to her Wyoming fiction--an elegiac pursuit of story--she has brought too sparingly to these nonfiction pages." Alexandra Fuller

Seattle Times 2 of 5 Stars
"Proulx's excesses ... are the last thing you'd expect from the author of three volumes of hard-edged Wyoming stories. ... Her decision to publish this account of her extravagance when so many Americans are losing their homes seems in dubious taste, too." Michael Upchurch

Critical Summary

Part memoir, part nature journal, part history, and part construction journal, Bird Cloud is, as the Boston Globe sums up, "a strange, disjointed, often beautiful book." The first point many critics commented on was its curious timing given the foreclosure crisis. "There is a whiff of unexamined privilege" throughout, notes the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and most did not disagree. Yet whether in good taste or bad, that wasn't the main point of contention. Reviewers generally agreed that Proulx is a master of capturing place, and her descriptions of the wild landscape held even naysayers' interest. However, many thought the writing unrestrained and circuitous, with no sense of unifying story. In the end, Bird Cloud may offer the most for design lovers--and those with $3.7 million to spend, as the property is now up for sale.