Ace Holds the Winning Hand
I’m Pat Tyrer from Canyon, Texas for the High-Plains-Public-Radio-Readers Book Club’s 2022 Fall Read. Our September book, That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx is a lovely exploration of the climate, the land, and the people of the Texas Panhandle. The plot of the novel is thin which doesn’t mean bad or irrelevant, but the story is more of a wandering though the Panhandle, observing the land and the climate and getting to know the different types of folks who live and thrive on this dry and windy section of the southern prairie where water is scarce and wind is inevitable.
The central character is a naïve, but decent, young man named Bob Dollar, who has struggled to find his way and is finally hired by Global Pork Rind Corporation to locate property for a corporate hog farm. I am originally from Iowa and there’s not much good you can convince me about corporate hog farms that would supersede my olfactory experience of driving by them on a hot and humid summer day. Of course, part of Bob’s job is to keep secret the plans he has for the property he’s scouting. Instead, he tells these wary Texans that he’s looking to buy property for luxury home development. He settles on the small community of Woolybucket and gets a room at a bunkhouse on the Busted Star Ranch. Although Woolybucket is a fictionalized town, Proulx includes enough actual places to expose the history, landscape, and people of the Panhandle with names like Happy Texas, “the town without a frown,” and Miami, pronounced locally “Miama.”
The strongest aspect of the novel for me is in the characters and their histories introduced though out the novel. In “Busted Star” Rancher LaVon tells the story of her “peripatetic grandfather” who eventually settled on the treeless prairie in 1879. Soon after arriving, he imported trees which had to be daily watered by bucket. Of course, most died off in the wind and weather. He then ran cattle who died from ticks, black leg, and a winter blizzard. The few that survived the winter drowned in the spring run-off. This was all followed by the death of his wife. What had taken him ten years to build up “in one year went from sittin’ pretty to flat broke.”
The title character, Ace Crouch, feels like the lynchpin to the tale. He explains what he sees when he looks out across the prairie and it isn’t the future home of a corporate hog farm. With warmth and understanding, Ace Crouch holds the winning hand in this story.
The history and stories of individuals are carefully woven throughout the readers’ traverse of the Panhandle both exploring the landscape and explaining its people—their histories, their dreams, and their continued love of this vast, windy, exceptional country. I hope this short discussion of That Old Ace in the Hole entices you to check it out. It’s a wonderful description of the climate, the land, and the people.
Again, I’m Pat Tyrer from Canyon, Texas in the middle of the Panhandle, for the High-Plains-Public-Radio-Readers Book Club.