If you want to meet someone named John or Mary or David, who has good teeth (or at least most of them), a decent haircut and low body fat, who'd rather sit on a toilet than piss off the porch, who might walk in the woods without taking a gun, who uses deodorant and has a fair grasp of standard English, then don't come in. If, on the other hand, you're looking for Netta or Albina or Albro, Eno or Snipe or Leverd, and you like 'em battered and broke and unbathed, this is the book for you. It's not pretty: "Some kind of subject," as the rare outsider says in one of these stories, "the rural downtrodden." There are, that is, a few people here from "away," and a mighty suspicious lot they are: gentrifying some run-down piece of property, buying up the locals' old junk and hanging it on the walls, outfitting themselves a la L.L. Bean and calling themselves hunters, or trying to lose themselves (or find themselves--who knows?) in the gritty misery of the place--in short, slumming.
This collection of stories by E. Annie Proulx is not a new book, but it may well be new to you. It is Proulx's first book, augmented with two previously unpublished stories, and its reappearance offers a second chance to those of us who missed it the first time around--the many readers Proulx has acquired since publication of her prize-winning novels "Postcards" and "The Shipping News." What's worth noting, though, is that this isn't the Annie Proulx of "The Shipping News." That spirited wit reporting from the fringe, making the most of the worst with her wildly exuberant language, is not much in evidence here. Nor is this, really, the Proulx of "Postcards," manic documenter of the dour and the bleak. In both novels, the dark and the darker, there's adventure--in the jampacked if meandering plots, and in the prose--whereas these stories, for the most part, stay put. They stay close to convention in language and form, and they never stray far from one perspective on one poor sort of life.