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December 02, 2008

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Chad Love: Brokeback Tree Stand

I'm probably going to catch a lot of flack for this post, but here goes anyway: I love Annie Proulx. I think she's one of the best American novelists and short-story writers this country has produced in the past quarter-century. I particularly enjoyed her book "That Old Ace in the Hole" because it's set in my beloved southern plains of the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles.

Great, but what does this have to do with hunting or fishing? Interesting story, that.

You see, Annie Proulx is also famous for writing a little short story called....(insert dramatic pause here)..."Brokeback Mountain," that by-now-infamous tale of two lonely cowboys, one tent, a bunch of sheep, and a lot of free time.

Now to say that "Brokeback Mountain" was a controversial film is something of an understatement. But what's really interesting to me is that prior to hitting the publishing big-time, Annie Proulx was ... (insert additional dramatic pause here) ... a hunting and fishing writer!

That's right. Strange factoid of the day: the gal who penned "Brokeback Mountain" got her start writing stories for Gray's Sporting Journal.

From an old interview in The Missouri Review.

I started writing nonfiction, mostly magazine journalism and how-to books, for income. At the same time I began to write short fiction, mostly stories about hunting and fishing and rural life in northern New England, subjects that interested me intensely at the time. Almost all of these stories were published in Gray's Sporting Journal, then a new and strikingly beautiful quarterly concerned with the outdoor world in the same way Hemingway's Nick Adams stories are about the outdoor world—the primary weight on literature, not sport. There was an intense camaraderie and shared literary excitement among the writers whose fiction appeared in Gray's, something I have never encountered since. It may have been that the struggles to get paid by Gray's created a bond of shared adversity among the writers; it may have been the genuine pleasure in being part of this unusual publication that valued serious outdoor writing in contrast to the hook-and-bullet mags.

Now I must quibble a bit with her assertion that only Gray's valued serious outdoor writing. Gray's was founded in 1975, and while I was still wearing Tuffskins and chasing lizards back then, in 1975 the big three sporting mags (and especially F&S, in my opinion) were still very much at the forefront of serious, literary outdoor writing. Still, I think it's fascinating that the author behind the most culturally polarizing film of the past few years credits her outdoors writing background as the genesis of her later mainstream success.

Comments

jstreet

Chad,

There's nothing wrong with looking up to the woman and admiring her success. I would imagine you (like most writers) dream of one day penning the next great American novel.

Best of luck to you.

Jim

I'm in school right now

Chad,
why do you think that you'll take a lot of flak for this post?

Nate

NH Philosopher

Please excuse the somewhat long post - but my kids are fighting over a power ranger...

Chad, I struggle to find the connection between the two elemental points..."I think it's fascinating that the author behind the most culturally polarizing film of the past few years credits her outdoors writing background as the genesis of her later mainstream success."

It strikes me that it IS her understanding of nature and complext human behaviour that make the story work on a deeper level. Both of which are key elements in effective outdoor writing - since the protagonists/heros typically struggle against the anti-hero "nature" or "the environment". (Man made or not).

Some of Annie Proulx's backdrops are that of natural wonder and include key elements and nuances that typify outdoor writing and journalism. The interlocking components of each of her novels, that I have read, include the inherrent non-human element (namely uncertainty of natural settings) in which the human elements stuggle against.

While the human element in Brokeback Mountain was and still is polarizing/controversial - it's also clear that the environment in which the story is set is in fact the one key element that sets this story apart. Tackling the perception vs. reality staged by the author to have audiences critically think about the chaos of the natural state of being.

Furthermore, it is also important to note that if this story were to take place in the city - so what - its another atypical storyline stemming a diverse urban populous. Thus, it probably would've been kept as a short story studied by some small New England liberal arts college.

The movie/story work because she can effectively juxtapose two seemingly opposing themes. To do this - one must have a mastery of not only language, but also of nature. One you can learn in school - the other in the field.

Mr. Creosote

Uhh, yeah. What he said.

Plus it brought new meaning to the term "Cowboy Up."

Horace

Annie Proulx is a decent story teller, but it's frightening to hear of your admiration for her prose, Mr. Love. She overwrites, writes for effect, writes to show off what an impressive writer she thinks she is, and as a secondary note she sometimes gives her audience a story to read. Thank God Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry, who is a much better story teller than Ms. Proulx, penned the movie script for Brokeback Mountain. They did a fine job.

Scrap5000

Don't ask, don't tell.

Chad Love

Horace, althought I'll stand by my assertion she's one of the best, I will agree with you and say I think Larry McMurtry is better, because I believe McMurtry is probably the finest living American writer we have.

Horace

Glad you two find some common ground on McMurtry. Very cute. But seriously, I think what Horace is getting at was better described by B.R. Meyer's article "A Reader's Manifesto" in the Atlantic Monthly: http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/200107/myers
To take things back to hunting, fishing, and writing, my pick for best living American writer goes to Jim Harrison. His novel Returning to Earth is outstanding.

Bob

So, now for the million dollar question:

How come none of these magazines are at the modern literary forefront anymore? (And what happened to non-fiction writing in sportsman's magazines?)

James Els

My apologies for the above post name stealing. Had Mr. Horace on the brain, it would seem.

NH Philosopher

McMurty is a fine writer - and, in my opinion on the same plane as Proulx. (albeit their themes are vastly different.)

If we were to throw in my two worthless cents - both Jon Krakauer and Bill Bryson are worthwhile competitors for agile, engaging and master outdoor storytellers who still breathe the same air as us.

(Oh and that guy who writes for the cabelas catalog!)

Chad Love

Hate to keep commenting on my own blog post, but Philosopher I've read absolutely everything Bryson has published, both here and in the UK.
Absolutely hands-down one of my all-time favorite writers and without question the funniest.
Just wish he'd move back to the states and write a novel.

Me Talk Pretty One Day

Mark-1

There’s many gifted writers dealing with controversial subject matter. I tend to pick a writer and study the person by reading everything they have written. Two recent:

Cormac McCarthy….The Road, Blood Meridian……This guy’s novels are more violent and disturbing than a new video game, but he’s a great writer….although his punctuation is weird. The Road really freaked me.

Thomas Harris…creator of Hannibal Lector [series]. Great writer, but more ecentric than the character he created.


tim romano

now we're talking... Cormac McCarthy is where it's at, and Me Talk Pretty One Day is one of the only books that had me laughing out loud uncontrollably on an airplane. People had to ask me to stop. Seriously...

Sage Sam

Whomever it was that said that Jim Harrison is America's Greatest Living Writer, kudos to you. Jim has penned a plethora of great novels, all involve the iterative relationhips between character and place and by extension, man and nature. Plus he hunts like a good American boy.

I'll also put my two cents in that David Petersen is a close second. Elkheart is a masterpiece. No one and I mean NO ONE, is more eloquent in explaining the hunt.

That said, you all have forgotten America's greatest writer, nature and otherwise, Edward Abbey. Without him; gun-toting, treehugging, bambi-killing, mouth-breathing neanderthals like me would never be what we are today.

He gave a voice to all us desert rats/jackpine savages/swamp things/general misanthropes that want to see things the way they were and the way they outa be.

Ed

Wow! These guys read books!
I think I'll spend the day at the library today and try to catch up!

Evan!

Tim and Mark - I named my son after Cormac McCarthy! if you haven't read any of his old stuff (I personally refer to them as the Tennessee books) such as "Suttree" or "Child of God," do so!

Up to this point I've only ever read Proulx's "The Shipping News," but I'll have to check out the books you've mentioned above. Thanks, Chad!

yrs-
Evan!

hal herring

Proulx first novel "Postcards."

Everything from trapping to gall bladder bear hunters to a man who leaves home after a killing and never comes back, the body still hidden in a stone wall...the book is an experience. So are the three books of "Wyoming Stories" - "Tits Up in a Ditch" should be read by anybody who dreams of a happy new life out on the sagebrush country.

Suttree, by McCarthy, for the all-time Big Book Award. I've never been the same after reading it. Blood Meridian would fit that bill, too, but I think I might be worse off after reading that one- would the reader have been among the scalp takers or the scalped? Would you have followed the Judge into Old Mexico and that weird blood soaked "redemption by violence" ?

Harrison's "Farmer." One of the best short novels ever written, by anybody. Tom McGuane's "92 in the Shade" for tarpon and permit fishing and weirdness in the Keys. "McGuane's "Nobody's Angel" for trouble in central Montana, when the hunting and the landscape just ain't enough anymore.

Larry Brown's "Joe" and "Father and Son" - fishing and hunting and wandering the woods of Mississippi, cooler in the back of the truck, trotlines coiled on the seat, old shotgun in the rack, and loads of trouble and heartbreak.

David Quammen's 80's novella "Walking Out" is another wild ride of a book. Elk hunting, grizz charges, a kid who accidentally shoots his estranged father with a 30-30, big stuff.

The list goes on and on- but it is not endless- not that many great novelists have understood hunting and fishing well enough to bring them to the page in fiction.


hal herring

As to that Atlantic Monthly piece referred to above, where the writer makes fun of Proulx, McCarthy, and everybody else, Teddy R. has the best response for that guy:

"It is not the critic who counts, not the man who points out how the strong man stumbled, or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena; whose face is marred by the dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs and comes short again and again; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions and spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best, knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who, at worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly; so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory or defeat."
THEODORE ROOSEVELT
(Paris Sorbonne,1910)

Chad Love

I had previously read the Atlantic piece, which simply reinforced my belief that most literary criticism is written by and for a bunch of high-falutin' wankers.

If we want to talk about bloated, nonsensical, difficult-to-follow prose, fine. It's not like it's something new.

Want an example? A show of hands, please (and be honest) for everyone (or anyone) who has actually made it all the way through, say, anything by that much-revered master James Joyce?

I tried making it through "Ulysses" once and I'd just as soon scoop my eyeballs out with a rusty spoon as try it again.

What about Faulkner? Some of his stuff is so dense that, like a black hole, light can't even escape it.

I have in my collection a first-edition Eudora Welty "A Curtain of Green" that's worth more money than anything in my gun safe. I tried reading it. I fell asleep. If anyone's interested I'll trade it straight across for a nice 20-gauge solid-rib Superposed...

For a more recent but still acknowledged "masterpiece" I also once attempted to read Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow."
Despite having one of the best opening lines in fiction, the rest of the book was lost on this hillbilly.
Maybe if I had dropped some acid first it would have made a little more sense to me.

Taste in literature is subjective. Some people like this, some people like that and some people get paid to tell others what and why they do and don't like. And that's all it is, a long-winded opinion from someone who gets paid by the word to express it.
The piece should more accurately be titled "One (and only one) Reader's Manifesto."

If writers didn't take chances then it wouldn't be literature, it'd be newsprint.

Evan!

thanks for the link to that piece of criticism, James. It should be obvious from my previous post that I have very different opinions about at least one author Myers is so critical of. This is not the place for a fully formed response to that essay, but I'm trying to kill some time at work so here goes:

much in the same way that I find David Lynch's work to be obnoxius for it's "hollywood is the center of the universe" attitude, Myers' obvious status as a member of the snooty reader's club discredits his opinion. enough of his piece is motivated by his own belief that the stated authors don't deserve the praise they're getting from other critics that the whole thing has a sheen of pettiness. At the heart of it, Myers doesn't seem to particuraly care for the overall direction of contemporary literature as expressed by the silly categories that only critics and booksellers pay attention to!

Literature persists, fortunately. These writers are points on a timeline, evolutionary landmarks in the life of language - as are King, Crichton and all the other "genre fiction" writers Myers apparently prefers. He disagrees with what is held in high regard and as such has no hesitation in offering his own version of "great works." Fine. Duly noted Mr. Myers. As Chad points out, it's all subjective, anyway, and reacting to "the literary establishment" doesn't make his opinion any sounder than anybody elses.

Someday there will be writers who absorb the valid parts of his criticism (of which there is plenty) and someday produce work that reflects those points. McCarthy wouldn't exist without Faulkner, and someday a writer will most certainly be born that stands in opposition to both McCarthy's and Faulkner's stylistic contributions to literature. Critics, meanwhile, will attend the same cocktail parties as the authors they don't believe deserve any praise and the rest of us - the really fortunate ones - will be free to read everything we can get our hands on.

yrs-
Evan!

Evan!

thanks for the link to that piece of criticism, James. It should be obvious from my previous post that I have very different opinions about at least one author Myers is so critical of. This is not the place for a fully formed response to that essay, but I'm trying to kill some time at work so here goes:

much in the same way that I find David Lynch's work to be obnoxius for it's "hollywood is the center of the universe" attitude, Myers' obvious status as a member of the snooty reader's club discredits his opinion. enough of his piece is motivated by his own belief that the stated authors don't deserve the praise they're getting from other critics that the whole thing has a sheen of pettiness. At the heart of it, Myers doesn't seem to particuraly care for the overall direction of contemporary literature as expressed by the silly categories that only critics and booksellers pay attention to!

Literature persists, fortunately. These writers are points on a timeline, evolutionary landmarks in the life of language - as are King, Crichton and all the other "genre fiction" writers Myers apparently prefers. He disagrees with what is held in high regard and as such has no hesitation in offering his own version of "great works." Fine. Duly noted Mr. Myers. As Chad points out, it's all subjective, anyway, and reacting to "the literary establishment" doesn't make his opinion any sounder than anybody elses.

Someday there will be writers who absorb the valid parts of his criticism (of which there is plenty) and someday produce work that reflects those points. McCarthy wouldn't exist without Faulkner, and someday a writer will most certainly be born that stands in opposition to both McCarthy's and Faulkner's stylistic contributions to literature. Critics, meanwhile, will attend the same cocktail parties as the authors they don't believe deserve any praise and the rest of us - the really fortunate ones - will be free to read everything we can get our hands on.

yrs-
Evan!

Evan!

holy cow! I'm so sorry I posted that twice.

yrs-
Evan!

Chad Love

Hey Evan, way off-topic but since you mentioned David Lynch...

In college all my friends were art school wannabe budding filmmakers (I was the token Bubba)

Anyway, we absolutely devoured everything by David Lynch because we thought it made us seem sophisticated and avante-garde, edgy and highbrow (Plus more often than not you got to see Isabella Rossallini or Laura Dern butt-nekkid...)

So lately the IFC has been showing a lot of David Lynch movies and I watched Blue Velvet and Wild at Heart for the first time in, like, 15 years.

They were fun to watch because they were so freakin' bad. Just atrocious. I couldn't believe that at one time I thought liking this stuff meant I was smart...

And the funny thing is, Lynch also directed Dune, which I still love, and of course Twin Peaks.

Go figure.




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