Friday, February 27, 2015

Brokeback Mountain by Annie Proulx

Title: Close Range: Wyoming Stories (includes Brokeback Mountain)
Author: Annie Proulx
Publisher:  Fourth Estate (1999)

I really enjoyed starting our year of posts with a reader suggested title (thanks again for spearheading that new twist, Michael). This month starts our picks and Brokeback Mountain is one of mine. I did the audio on this a few years back; this time I read it with my very own eyes and it only gets better with more reads. And at the risk stepping outside the author's intentions, I plan to fangirl all over this short story. Note: I attempted some of the other stories but none could hold my interest - I'm not much of a short story person - so this review does not include the entire collection.

For those that are new to our monthly series, this is when Michael reviews a film adapted from a book which gets a review here. 

Click here for Michael's film review of Brokeback Mountain
at It Rains... You Get Wet

They were respectful of each other's opinions, each glad to have a companion where none had been expected. Ennis, riding against the wind back to the sheep in the treacherous, drunken light, thought he'd never had such a good time, felt he could paw the white out of the moon.

Ennis and Jack, the summer they are both about 19, end up herding sheep on Brokeback Mountain in 1960s Wyoming. Their friendship develops almost immediately and later progresses to intimacy. Their passionate summer spent together begins a decades long covert relationship.

...they shook hands, hit each other on the shoulder, then there was forty feet of distance between them and nothing to do but drive away in opposite directions. Within a mile Ennis felt like someone was pulling his guts out hand over hand a yard at a time.

The two men do not live near each other and don't see each other for four years after that first summer. When they finally connect again, both having married and started families, their feelings for each other have not diminished in the slightest.

It ain't goin a be that way. We can't. ... Can't get out of it. Jack, I don't want a be like them guys you see around sometimes. And I don't want a be dead.

They are both caught by a time and a community that won't tolerate an open relationship between two men. Ennis copes with this by living the life expected of him; his relationship with Jack the only exception. Jack copes through dreams and affairs that the reader usually has to infer rather than experience. However they manage alone, it is with each other that they find solace through annual vacations.

Years on years they worked their way through the high meadows and mountain drainages... but never returning to Brokeback.

One thing never changed: the brilliant charge of their infrequent couplings was darkened by the sense of time flying, never enough time, never enough.

It's difficult to go too deeply into a short story without revealing everything of it. Perhaps this story has become so famous that many folks know it anyway. However, even if you're familiar with it from the movie (or media coverage) I can't stress enough how worth it it is to read the story. The breadth of character and experience conveyed by Proulx in 37 pages is wonderful, absorbing and heartbreaking. I struggle to think of a more magnificent and touching love story.

Now about that movie... Don't forget to check out Michael's post. 

rating: 5 of 5 stars

Coming up next:  
Lost Moon by Jim Lovell & Jeffrey Kluger


  1. So glad you nominated this one, Rachel. Gave me the distinct pleasure of experiencing Annie Proulx's writing, firsthand. What a stellar writer. I very much got into her other short stories in this collection, as well (I did the audiobook, too). But the standout is "Brokeback Mountain." A Hell of subject and treatment for this in 1997. Short and bittersweet. Proulx's language in keeping with the vaunted sage authors in this genre, and elevating it beyond its usual parameters. Can't get much better than that. Certainly, it made me appreciate the film adaptation that much more this time around. Well done. Thanks, Rachel! :-)

  2. I always meant to read this (loved the movie) but forgot. Thanks for reminding me - and letting me know it's worth it!

  3. Hi Michael - a bit slow to respond here... but I'm so glad you liked it. It's a favorite of mine so I'm really happy we added it to the series. And very cool that you enjoyed the whole collection.
    I thought it was cool that we both linked to that article quoting Proulx as having no patience with some of her BM fans. Obviously she's entitled to her own feelings and response here but in general I have no patience for author's who make no allowances for the completion of artwork which, I think, is consumption. You can't always control how your art will touch someone but once you put it out there it's not wholly yours anymore (obv Proulx would disagree with me). I was reminded of the likes of Kurt Cobain and Bill Waterson. They were two artists who were always getting pissy with how the masses consumed their work. In my definitely-not-humble opinion, if you don't want your art consumed then you shouldn't share it.

    Hi Beth - Have you had a chance to get to this one yet? I think you will like it.