Contrary to many of the reviews on GoodReads, I didn’t start reading this for the famous Brokeback Mountain. I actually started reading it because I needed a short story for my coursework, and this was what the librarian chose for me. I used one of the short stories (The Blood Bay) and decided that, y’know, I already had it on loan, so I might as well read it.
Bloody hell. Proulx’s writing is brilliant; vivid descriptions, character development, and a characteristic of her stories is that every one of them contains a twist at the end.
Shall I go through all of the stories on this copy? Yes, I shall. Skip to the ones you want, if you would like.
The Half-Skinned Skeer – I’m not going to lie. This story scared me. I went running after finishing it in the dark on the bus, and I was terrified. I remember this one being confusing too, but it was still good.
The Mud Below – aah, Diamond Felts, the rodeo cowboy. This story gives us the nitty and gritty bits of rodeo, the stuff that isn’t emphasised in the films. Trigger warning for this book: it contains rape. But still a good story.
Job History – this story gives us the history of one man’s jobs, all the way through from his first to his last. An interesting story, what I would probably call a descriptive piece. It’s short for a reason, you couldn’t read it forever. I don’t think you could write about that for an entire book! It’s only 10 pages. Interesting, though.
The Blood Bay – another short story that will make you question the moralities of human beings. This is a very short story, only a few pages, so I’m struggling to say stuff that won’t give too much away. It shows the Greek custom of xenia if that is useful to you in any way.
People in Hell Just Want a Drink of Water – this story about a man brain damaged in an accident ends in a sickly twist. Well written, well executed, it leaves you guessing until the very end and with mixed emotions about the characters. There’s no real antagonist – or is there?
The Bunchgrass Edge of the World – marriage, talking tractors, and no real sense of a main plot; there seemed to be many tiny stories happening in this larger one. This was the one I could remember least, but I do remember being distracted whilst reading. Not my favourite.
Pair a Spurs – another trigger warning of rape, this story is about, unsurprisingly, a pair of spurs. The brutal ranch life is shown deeply in this story, and it also offers interesting twists and turns.
A Lonely Coast – harsh friendships, trippy relationships and confusing lives are the main point of this story. Confusing to me, anyway, also didn’t make much of an impression.
The Governors of Wyoming – this story focusses on vegetarian ranches, and a man called ‘Wade Wells’ who has made it his life mission to free cattle from ranches. He meets up with his sisters, Roany and Renti, and tries to…ah, you’ll have to read it to find out.
55 Miles to the Gas Pump – this story can’t be more than 500 words, and it tells the story of a lonely farmer and his wife in the middle of nowhere. The farmer gets up to some slightly disturbing activities amidst the boredom of everyday life.
Brokeback Mountain – I am so glad this one was at the end, as I think I would have felt far too emotionally drained to then go on and read the others (it also gave me something to look forward to). Is it any surprise that this review is going to be the longest? Brokeback Mountain tells the story of Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar. It’s the gay cowboy story that I am sure almost everyone has heard of. Working on the fictional Brokeback Mountain during the summer, they get up to some ‘adventures’. But this story begins in 1963, and attitudes to homosexuality were far less liberal than today – and we don’t even have the freedom we should. Ennis is engaged, and later gets married, despite Jack loving him. The story takes place over the course of 20 years and ends in a heartbreaking trauma which will rip your heart out and stomp on it. Read it.
Would I recommend this book? Yes. Not all of the stories in it, mind, but if you read one from it, make it Brokeback. And then, if you have time (or aren’t sobbing on your bed) watch the film as well. It literally quotes word for word.
Brilliant author, brilliant book.