Bad Dirt by Annie Proulx

This is the Annie Proulx’s second collection of short stories set in Wyoming.  I didn’t particularly enjoy the first one (Close Range), but this one was a far better read, and I could understand all the acclaim which Annie Proulx has received.

There are eleven stories in this collection, and a number of them are set in Elk Tooth, Wyoming, a small town with a population of around 80 people, so almost inevitably, certain characters pop up in two or more of the stories.

Proulx masterfully conjures up an image of the tough but beautiful land and the hard life of it’s inhabitants – mainly cowboys, ranchers and their families.  From whimsical tales about beard growing contests and a craze for crudely fashioned hot tubs, to tales of rough justice being served, these are stories which though short, never fail to flesh out their characters.  Many of the tales are almost like modern day fables, with a sting in the tale.  My personal favourites were Dump Junk with it’s supernatural twist, and The Contest (concerning the aforementioned beard growing contest).  Plenty of moments of wry humour too.

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