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I Could Do Without the Names

Yucca plants in bloom
National Trails Office (US National Park Service), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Yucca plants in bloom

Hello fellow HPPR Radio Book Club listeners. My name is Andrea Elise and I live in Amarillo, Texas.

As someone who grew up in Amarillo but lived in several different cities in the U.S. and two years in South Korea, I found Annie Proulx’s novel, That Old Ace in the Hole a mixed bag of farcical and observational storytelling.

Let me explain.

First, a writer can’t go too wrong with a coming-of-age story like Bob Dollar’s, the twenty-five-year-old somewhat aimless young man whose parents abandoned him to go to Alaska when he was a child. Bob ended up living in Denver with his Uncle Tam (short for “Tambourine) and working as an advance man for a company called Global Pork Rind.

Bob is both the protagonist and somewhat of a noble villain in the story. His job entails traveling to different cities and towns in the Texas Panhandle looking for acreage to build hog farms. He uses a ruse by saying he is scouting places for housing developments.

One of my problems with the novel was all the different characters with silly names Bob meets along the way. Why confuse the reader with a slew of characters with impossible monikers (such as Beautyrooms, Habakuk and Pocok) who do not move the story along? I found many of the story lines meandering and boring, and the character names annoying.

To be fair, Proulx’s use of language when she depicts different examples of people and life in the Panhandle is lovely. One example of this prose is on page 43. Proulx writes about Bob, “…the cows obscured by the manure dust that loaded the wind and was clearly the source of the cloud, introduced him to the infamous brown days of the Texas Panhandle, wind-borne, dust he later heard called ‘Oklahoma rain…”

There are other descriptions of people and the landscape that are beautiful, especially for those readers who have never experienced the High Plains.

However, Proulx misses the mark when she uses different characters’ voices. The slang and language in general don’t sound real, and it appears she is trying too hard to capture accents with which she is unfamiliar. I don’t know anyone in the Texas Panhandle who talks like these characters.

Proulx does capture the can-do spirit in the Panhandle but, in my opinion, she also seems to mingle this pride with a sense of privilege for Anglo settlers who want to restock the bison population and colonize land ownership without regard to indigenous nations.

Tangentially, I happened to attend Beethoven’s masterpiece, Missa Solemnis, the night after I finished Annie Proulx’s book. The Missa is glorious; it is brilliant; it fires your heart and it mends your soul. Why, then, did we, as an audience, have to stand up and sing the damn National Anthem before the start of this magnificent piece of music?

I ask the same question regarding Proulx’s novel. Why do we have to hear about all the patriotic, go-Texas-go rhetoric when the landscape, the sky, the wondrous emptiness of the Panhandle can heal our weariness on its own?

I will give Annie Proulx credit for giving me the inspiration to write two haikus about life in the Panhandle of Texas. They are, as follows:

Yucca plants in bloom

June’s gift to the empty Plains

A kissed bride’s bouquet

Amarillo stars

Dripping shine into the night

Moon glade our dreams.

I’m Andrea Elise for HPPR Radio Readers Book Club.

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