Having established the bedrock, Proulx then, in Annales fashion, immerses herself in the local community. However, during the writing process, Proulx the historian gives way to Proulx the writer, and the tales overheard in the barroom are subject to the operation of the The Novelist 17 imagination. Some idea of the alchemy that takes place during those early morning writing sessions can be gleaned through her treatment of her characters.
Their names may be culled from local directories, but they are far from composites of all those hours spent in the library. Thus, as her narratives deftly navigate their way between the tragic and darkly comic, she offers the reader a gallery of grotesques lurching towards the caricature. Wash Williams and Wing Biddlebaum are both creations worthy of Proulx. I always place my characters against the idea of mass, whether landscape or a crushing social situation or powerful circumstances.
Furthermore, because she is frequently attempting to capture the wholesale decline of a region, her novels generally contain a large number of characters.
Even major characters can be subject to the same compression, the narrative selection of those aspects of their lives worthy of development providing an interesting study in itself. Stumbled through his twenties and into his thirties learning to separate his feelings from his life, counting on nothing. He ate prodigiously, liked a ham knuckle, buttered spuds.
And his temperament is captured: his homely appetites, his physical and social awkwardness, his irritating, ingratiating passivity. Also central to the success of such writing has been the incorporation of the stacked metaphor, often two or three in a row, through which Proulx creates linguistic echoes which develop a sense beyond the denotative meaning of the words in isolation.
As always, when signs are this clear that an author knows her trade, the reader signs on for the journey. Her scope is epic, each tale narrated through a series of fragmentary snapshots by a third-person narrator, whose tobacco-spitting tone resembles that of the central characters. Proulx elevates each to the level of tragedy, her protagonists struggling against forces, internal and external, explored through a typology drawn from Classical and Biblical symbolism. Postcards is of particular interest because it shows an early Proulx willing to experiment with innovative narrative techniques and push grammar and syntax to its breaking point.
Brokeback Mountain reveals a more restrained writer, but a more accomplished storyteller.
Series: Continuum Contemporaries This guide to Annie Proulx's novel Postcards and her short story Brokeback Mountain features a biography of the author. Read Annie Proulx's: Brokeback Mountain and Postcards (Continuum Contemporaries Series) book reviews & author details and more at prehkermiscmartu.ml
A farm brought to the brink of extinction by a blinkered patriarch, an accidental murder, a lost arm, a lost child — the beams fall hard and fast in the novel, punishing her isolated characters with Biblical vehemence. The landscape is unyielding, transforming domestic tribulations into epical feats of endurance. And yet her tone is never so elevated that we are unable to see the characters in front of us; the time spent listening to gossip, stories and advice on fur-trapping has not been wasted.
Norris was preoccupied by social Darwinism, particularly how the civilized man must struggle with his animalistic tendencies, both violent and sexual. He explored this theme in McTeague; the eponymous anti-hero kills his wife and triggers a chain of events which in turn release underlying forces. Norris is also interesting to Proulx aesthetically, for in his The Responsibilities of the Novelist he rejected the novel as social reportage and also the ascendancy of the linear narrative form in favour of a panorama displaying the struggles of ordinary people through a fragmentary observed experience.
Like Accordion Crimes, Dos Passos offers a history of the United States through the plight of marginalized immigrant labourers. He does not give a linear history, nor is there a central character or single story. In the novel, Proulx eschews a linear narrative in favour of a series of fragments held together by a strong third-person narrator who zooms in and out of the action while drifting between the subjective experiences of different characters.
The effect of this bewildering telescoping of action is that the reader is continually kept in a state of disequilibrium: he is invited to write parts of the story himself, and then co-opted into an extremely tightly controlled narrative frame, often with wider implications.
The postcards themselves offer even more interpretative potential, particularly because we are not the intended recipient. We are constantly being encouraged to snoop on half-disclosed secrets, and work out the rest for ourselves in an act of literary detection: a fascinating task, worthy of careful consideration. It is, however, during the process of reading that their true function becomes apparent as we are invited to make connections between the postcard, the chapter title and the text. Broadly speaking, the postcards fall into two categories. There is also a further grouping of unsolicited printed postcards which serve to draw out ironic parallels between the plights of the central characters.
Not only are we not the intended recipient, but we only have one side of the communication, from which we are invited to form judgements on both writer and addressee. The history of the Blood family is captured in their postcards, mostly in their slips and evasions. Loyal, for example, continues to mail postcards throughout the novel, but they reveal so little; like the bear that fronts them, he remains an outsider, disinterested in dialogue, either with his own emotions or the opinions of others only when near death does he provide a return address. In writing he realizes that he has nothing to say and the card remains unsent p.
The tone of the postcards also reveals much about the character of the sender. On the Blood farm they inseminate the old way, as Loyal has just proven on the hillside. Furthermore, it is unfortunate that the card focuses on bloodlines, for in losing Loyal he has lost his bullish successor. Her appeal to Loyal to return, written with the help of Mernelle, is muddled but full of pathos. Her card to Dub, by this time a millionaire, thanking him for the gift of a box of grapefruit, is full of pathos.
From an early age her desperate desire for a pen pal brings her into contact with the predatory Sergeant Frederick Hale Bottum, who reminds us of the dangers for all young girls outside their community, and Juniata Calliota, the daughter of a poor immigrant family. Even when Mernelle is married her slightly desperate appeals to Dub to visit suggest her continued loneliness p.
The story of Joe Blueskies is a case in point.
Through a series of unconnected postcards spread throughout the novel the reader has the task of piecing together the story of a successful herbalist p. So who is the man picked up by Loyal: conman, Native American herbalist, or psychiatric patient?
In collating the narrative fragments — the pictures, postcards and anecdotes — we arrive at one of many competing interpretations offered by the clues. The Blood family is carved out of the inhospitable nature that surrounds them. Mink whose name reminds us of a quicktempered member of the weasel family is crushed by his tractor and has half his ear torn off by a brood sow p. Loyal, like his dog, is loyal to the land. The air was charged with his exhalations.
Not only is Loyal part of the soil, but he has altered the landscape. As the nascent Republic sought an iconography to make sense of the vastness of the imposing landscape, its writers and painters fell back on old models, transforming the new land into both a Classical Arcadia and, in accordance with the doctrine of Manifest Destiny, the new Eden.
Or this is what he tells himself later in vindication. It is a fatal game.
Central to this tradition is the heroic struggle of the main protagonist against forces, both internal and external, beyond his control. Thus he becomes a modern Odysseus, the transformation in our perception of him reinforced throughout the text by his continual alignment with a range of suffering characters.
Here, her target appears to be the egotism central to the tragic hero: for to believe oneself selected for special punishment by the gods removes the responsibility for self-analysis. Billy had focused every one of her dying atoms into cursing him. She would rot him down, misery by misery, dog him through the worst kind of life. She would twist and wrench him to the limits of anatomy.
When Loyal stops his car to take one last glance at his pasture, the reader sees through his eyes nature improved through careful husbandry to form a spiritual relationship between God and men. God is no longer a presence on the airwaves; radio voices now warn of escaped rapists and polluted drinking water. The irony seems complete. Loyal, however, is no mere observer.
The need to work means he is continually forging a new relationship with the landscape, which allows the narrator to draw ironic parallels with his crime. The plight of farming was shared by other rural industries, such as mining which became the reserve of corporations that could afford the labour and appropriate machinery ; local businesses which suffered from the growth of chain stores ; and also rural crafts, such as hunting and trapping which faced the twin threat of government-funded agents and the anti-fur lobby.
It also becomes part of the epic framework of the novel, as the reader is shown, in true Steinbeck fashion, the tragedy of those battling with economic forces beyond their control. It is a far cry from the corporate mines that are always threatening to swallow them up. The narrator pushes this symbolism further when an aged Loyal digs up a fulgurite a rock deformed by lightning , which he takes to be a dinosaur bone. It is entirely appropriate that Loyal should confuse this material symbol of his electrifying rage for part of a skeleton, since it represents the skeleton in his cupboard.
It is also characteristic that having uncovered it he should bury it again rather than face up to the consequences of his rage p. From bone hunting he turns to trapping. It is this elusive spirit that Loyal sets out to master, since his own has been corrupted and transformed into rage. His methods, recalled in detail by the narrator and an admiring Dub, are contrasted sharply with the cruelty of the sheep men who blind coyotes before turning them loose to die a slow death, and the government agents who shoot wildly from helicopters or use poison that seeps into the entire food chain.
Not that the distinction between independent and commercial trappers makes any sense to the urban middle classes; the anti-fur lobby, as Loyal bemoans, proves to be a blunt moral arbiter. However, times have changed, and farming, as his neighbour Old Shears makes clear, has become mechanized. Once again, it is an episode that appears to be symbolic: the wind-battered tree is a common symbol in Classical, Norse and Native American mythology to represent angry gods. This is not to say that the narrator or Proulx sentimentalizes their past.
Nevertheless, the narrative is insistent in highlighting the threat posed by outsiders to the delicate rural infrastructure. They create a new relationship with the land, new business practices and a new urban morality that threatens those family and neighbourly loyalties that create the sense of community. And yet the family still maintain a strong sense of community, a product of the brutalizing effects of their environment. As such, the resulting trailer park acts as a microcosm of the mismanagement of the rural environment observed throughout the rest of the novel.
Shouting women, children crying and calling. Saturday afternoon target practice. Assorted trucks, cars, motorcycles, snowmobiles, three-wheelers, ATVs. New people bringing new needs in to a changing landscape — this is what we see through the eyes of Jewell when she eventually takes to the road.
And in her critical appraisal it is very easy to hear the voice of Proulx herself: She saw the landscape changing. She was critical when the road crews cut overhanging limbs from maples. Tears streamed when they cut the trees themselves to widen the highway, hardtop now all the way to the Post Road. The village grew unaccountably, men sawed down the yellowing elms, tore up stumps with great corkscrew machines.
The street spread like unpenned water to the edges of the buildings.
Metal roofs glittered. The clear-cut left the hills as bare as the side of a scraped hog.