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Beauty, Survival, Food and Dialect

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The Lyda Hill Texas Collection of Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith's America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division.
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The beauty of the Texas Panhandle comes through in a complex story of life and survival in a sparsely populated, lonely region

Welcome to “Book Bytes” for High Plains Public Radio; I am Dr. Mary Scott, Professor of Biology at Dodge City Community College. I want to share with That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx. This work of fiction has stories within the main story which is a complexity I enjoy; however, I found the strength of Proulx’s writing was her ability to paint landscapes with her words. I enjoyed the descriptions of the Oklahoma and Texas panhandle.

As Bob Dollar drives to the town of Woolybucket, the reader is taken on a journey across the grasslands where the towns are far apart. Proulx describes beauty in the seasonal changes from green to brown, as well as the challenges of wind, hail, blowing dust, and tumbleweeds. Being from Kansas, and having crossed the panhandle of Oklahoma, I enjoyed these descriptions. In my mind, I can see the deserted, decaying houses and dying towns described. This same talent is used to paint a picture of the farmers and ranchers trying to survive in modern times. Between the descriptions of landscapes and the depiction of classic “pioneer or cowboy spirit,” I hope some might come see that we are more than just “flyover states.”

Proulx has also captured the speech, food, and life found in this area of the United States. Descriptions of the “Barbwire festival” may have you recalling other celebrations you have attended, complete with quilt raffles and a rodeo. Proulx has captured the dialect of this part of the United States. Not full southern but the start of the southern drawl. If you will hear in your head how she has written words such as “graindad” for “grandad,” you will hear some of the sounds of the panhandle. I enjoy this type of writing. It brings the characters alive for me.

I also believe that if you enjoy historical fiction, you will enjoy this well researched book. I would even recommend you read the “acknowledgements” and then the “author’s note before you start this novel. This only gives you a glimpse of the research or history that this work of fiction is drawn from. In the stories that landlady LaVon Fronk shares with Bob Dollar, you learn how the west was settled. From visiting with LaVon and locals regularly gathering at the Old Dog Café, Bob learns of the modernization and problems the area faces as the ranchers and towns try to survive. Annie Proulx uses her talent to show the characters of the original settlers in their descendants; thus, connecting the old with the new.

The stories are more than just about the old west. The main character, Bob Dollar, has his story start in Colorado, and he leads you to the stories of his Uncle Tam and his best friend Orlando. You will see Bob coming of age, struggling to do his job, and questioning the world, wondering if hope remains for the panhandle.

This has been Dr. Mary Scott for the High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club. Thank you for listening. I hope you will consider reading and enjoy a taste of the old west in That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx.

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Fall Read 2022: Rural Life Revisited 2022 Fall ReadHPPR Radio Readers Book Club
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