That Old Ace in the Hole

 

by Annie Proulx

 

Scribner

 

(This review first appeared in the May 29, 2003 issue of ArtVoice.)

 

Annie Proulx, the author of the Pulitzer Prize winning  The Shipping News, a novel set in Newfoundland, here in That Old Ace in the Hole turns her sights on the panhandles of Texas and Oklahoma. (A great leap perhaps but Proulx has written about the west before in her collection, Close Range: Wyoming Stories.) In this new novel she ties together her usual wonderful characterizations around a rather thin but interesting story line. A young Denver man, Bob Dollar, takes a job with Global Pork Rind, an international corporation whose income derives from hog farms. He is to scout out new properties on which to locate more of those blots on our rural lands with their "huge fetid stink like ten thousand rotten socks, like decaying flesh, like stale urine and swamp gas, like sour vomit and liquid manure." (Can you guess where Proulx's preferences lie?) His happily unsuccessful search brings him into contact -- and conflict -- with the kind of characters Proulx describes so well, and in particular the Ace of her title, Ace Crouch. Not usually a fan of attempts to mimic dialog, I still enjoyed Proulx's wonderful ear for the rural South: prior for prayer, small for smile and main for mean. This is about a country of sandstorms and tornadoes, of old creaking windmills and feedlots, of cattle and tumbleweed, of rodeos and country gossip. I would never want to live there but I certainly enjoyed this visit.