three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
37-Nov-Dec-2008
By: 
Annie Proulx
user_rating: 
0
Award Year: 
0

A-Fine Just the Way It IsAnnie Proulx, author of The Shipping News and other works of fiction, as well as a former recipient of the Pulitzer Prize, the National Book Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and two O. Henry Prizes, continues to dazzle readers with her third and final installment in the Wyoming Stories trilogy.

The Story: In these nine short stories, prehistoric Native Americans, 19th-century pioneers, Depression-era drifters, and soldiers newly returned from Iraq struggle to survive in an American West far different from that of legend. Octogenarian Ray Forkenbrock considers revealing a dark family secret when his granddaughter asks him for an oral history in "Family Man." "Them Old Cowboy Songs" features unprepared teenaged newlyweds battling poverty and the elements on their isolated homestead. In "Tits-Up in a Ditch," a young woman’s decision to leave her infant son with her unstable grandparents to join the army has devastating consequences. In each story, the resilience of the human spirit comes up against grim reality in a disturbing showdown.
Scribner. 221 pages. $25. ISBN: 1416571663

Denver Post 4 of 5 Stars
"Fine Just the Way It Is depicts a world that is anything but, one that pushes those who would challenge its implacable nature to their limits and grinds them to dust. … But these cleanly wrought, tight stories are a pleasure." Robin Vidimos

Miami Herald 4 of 5 Stars
"One doesn’t need to parse these nine unforgettable stories—some bleak as stone, a few amusing—to understand the irony of the collection’s title. Deftly chiseled out of pioneer mythology and modern-day avarice, Fine Just the Way It Is echoes the stubborn mentality (‘people here never had no trouble with it’) that belies the scrabbling existence of Proulx’s characters—the aging, busted-up rodeo riders; the damaged Iraq-war vets; the women robbed of children; the hiker trapped by falling rocks—and the backbreaking work, biting weather, bad luck and constant disappointment that assail them." Connie Ogle

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Fine Just the Way It Is shows that Bad Dirt was a transitional work, written while Proulx was turning from observant outsider into knowledgeable insider. All of her usual tendencies are in this new collection—telling detail, detours into personal and family histories, emphasis not on where the story goes but how it gets there, and a willingness to risk—but they are blended more naturally." Michael McGregor

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"While her virtual newcomer status hardly trumps those who herald back-to-pioneer days, the beauty of her prose and the ease with which her characters rise vividly and memorably from the page belie all else. … Proulx balances the dark places in her collection with a humor that acknowledges, as the pioneers did, that death and sickness are a part of life; we can dwell on our hardships or find moments to chuckle at the ironies." Jennie Camp

St. Petersburg Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Many of the stories in Fine Just the Way It Is are breathtaking in their cool depiction of the hardships of that life and the astonishing amount of stubborn resolve it takes to survive it—or just try to. They are also often breathtaking in their descriptions of the harsh beauty of the landscape, utterly indifferent to humans but irresistible to those who fall in love with its canyons and peaks, its soaring skies and singing rivers." Colette Bancroft

Seattle Times 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The oddballs-out here are two stories about the Devil and his ‘demon secretary’ that allow Proulx to vent about human folly and venality in a slapdash way, but they feel more as though they’re script treatments for ‘South Park.’ They look a little foolish here, considering the fine company they’re keeping." Michael Upchurch

San Francisco Chronicle 2 of 5 Stars
"[S]adly, the way a wizened face will occasionally show hints of its youth, [the collection] achieves only in shadows and glimmers the emotional devastation and poignancy of her earliest and best stories. … [Most of the stories] reveal the crucial distinction between the land being cruel and unforgiving and the author being so." Cheston Knapp

Critical Summary

Annie Proulx skillfully depicts lives of hardship and struggle against the seductive but unforgiving backdrop of Wyoming as she draws memorable, complex characters whose sufferings resonate deeply with readers. Her lovely prose is as spare, straightforward, and uncompromising as the landscape she describes so vividly. Proulx balances the harshness of her tales with dark humor—even indulging in a couple of mischievous stories featuring the Devil and his demonic private secretary, Duane Fork. But some critics felt they were out of place in the collection. Though the San Francisco Chronicle had "the disturbing sense that she’s reveling in her characters’ pain," the St. Petersburg Times countered that "Proulx writes with clear-eyed, ironic affection about life in the real West, not the sentimental version."

Also in the Trilogy

Close Range Wyoming Stories (1999): The first in the Wyoming Stories trilogy, these heartbreaking, bittersweet stories include the celebrated "Brokeback Mountain," which was made into an award-winning movie.

Bad Dirt Wyoming Stories 2 (2005): 3 of 5 Stars Mar/Apr 2005. The 80 people who populate the Wyoming town of Elk Tooth enter beard-growing contests, grumble about poachers, pine for the past, dream of hot tubs, or struggle to start a new life away from big-city pressures.