Novelist Proulx (Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3, 2008, etc.), the laureate of the Wyoming outback and the Canadian shore, returns to familiar haunts—this time in real life.
French Canada figures as a point of origin in the author’s lightly written memoir, in which a great-grandfather speaks: “I know I have feefteen child leeveing, how many more in Minnesota, Canada, y’odder place, O do not know.” So do Rhode Island and a few other points on Proulx’s personal map. Most of the book, however, concerns the section of land along the North Platte River that came into her possession a few years ago, and where she has since made her home. The “cow-speckled” land, by her description, is rugged, marked by gullies, dust and a dramatic cliff that marks a geological fault—good cause for a meditation on the Rio Grand Rift, a massive fault system that “has made not only the Rio Grande River gorge near Taos but some of the West’s most beautiful valleys.” Proulx also finds resemblances to contemplate between her eponymous ranch and Uluru, or Ayers Rock, the great Australian monolith that seems weirdly bathed in interior light. Her depictions of the Wyoming landscape in all its moods are in keeping with the best of the Western nature-writing tradition, full of celebration and evocation. But oddly, the narrative contains fewer reveries about the land than one might expect, and a lot of what might be considered helpful hints for would-be bookish homesteaders, ranging from the proper design of an office (with lots of surfaces for laying out maps and piling up paper) and bookcases (to hold thousands of books) to how to relax in a Japanese soak tub (“The long soak was wonderful,” Proulx writes, “but an hour later, I discovered a terrible flood in the library”).
A low-key, pleasing account of finding home—the place, “perhaps, where I will end my days”—by an accomplished storyteller.