Proulx does her usual magic here, poking and twisting at her characters until they spill the beans, wringing the language dry. Amazing, really. She is one of the few truly unique stylists of the present day.
This novel, however, lacks overall narrative cohesiveness. I found my mind wandering away at times, something that has never happened to me before with any of her writing.
This might be a good time to mention a rather infamous essay published in The Atlantic Monthly in 2001. It’s called “A Reader’s Manifesto”, a rant against the pretensions of the literary elite that later was expanded and published as a tract (Melville House Publishing; 1st edition (September 2002) ISBN: 0971865906).
For the most part I have no problem with the occasional kick to the shins of the literary elite. In fact, the author (B.R. Myers — who has published no novels of his own, be it duly noted) makes some valid points, but he also tips his hand in two ways: first, he adores Joyce and Proust, the masters sine qua non of literary pretension. Then Myers goes after particular writers for their word choices not only in their novels, but in their acknowledgments. In this, he gives himself away as an authoritarian language-maven of the first order: a fussy, footnote quoting dictionary wielder.
I’ve met Annie Proulx, and I’ll say this clearly: the woman is as tough as they come, and she does not need me to defend her. But look at this quote:
Luckily for Proulx, many readers today expect literary language to be so remote from normal speech as to be routinely incomprehensible. “Strangled ways,” they murmur to themselves in baffled admiration. “Now who but a Writer would think of that!”
Next thing Myers will be scolding Elmore Leonard for writing dialog that is not in complete sentences. The readers might get ideas. They might start playing with language, and where, I ask you, would such madness end?