A kind of Rake’s Progress set in the Texas panhandle, where a slick Denver hustler goes to fleece the rubes and ends up going over to their side.
The aptly named Bob Dollar hasn’t got much going for him except youth, innocence, and an uninformed ambition to make something of himself. It’s not surprising he turned out this way, considering that his no-good parents walked out when he was seven, leaving him in the care of his crusty uncle while they went off to seek their fortune in Alaska. Now that he’s all grown up and done with college, Bob takes a job with the Global Pork Rind Corporation as location scout. His mission is to scour the Texas panhandle looking for ranches that might be bought to use as hog farms for the GPR. It’s a tough sell (who wants to live near a hog farm?), and the Texas outback is rough territory for salesmen under the best of circumstances. For a young man in a hurry, though, the job offers hope of quick advancement and good money down the line. But Bob, a Denver boy, has never been to Texas before, and he doesn’t know the first thing about the ways of folks on the panhandle—where millionaires are likely to live in trailers and building steam locomotives in your garage might count as a normal hobby. In the little crossroads town of Woolybucket, with his landlady LaVon Fronk as his guide, he sets out to size up the locals and go in for the kill. He soon settles upon Ace and Tater Crouch as his best target: cash-poor and getting on in years, the Crouch brothers own a large spread that would be perfect for a hog farm. Unfortunately for Bob, the Crouches have more than dollars in mind. Even worse, they eventually make him see that there’s more than dollars in life.
Funny, deft, and sharply told, Proulx’s latest (after Close Range, 1999) suffers from excessive local color in parts, but it’s engaging and worthwhile—if not up to her usual level.