I want to live in Wyoming. In Elk Tooth, to be exact, where I would drink shots with and compare beards to and maybe drag home the people Annie Proulx knows. Surely she knows them. There's no other explanation for the pulsing blood of life and death and hilarity that oozes from every living being (alligators and wolves and elks included) in her new short-story collection, Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2. With these 11 stories, Proulx cements a reputation built on The Shipping News, Accordion Crimes and Close Range. As in those works, here Proulx favors us with characters as spare, quirky and unforgiving as the Wyoming landscape itself. In Hellhole, Warden Creel Zmundzinski is at first befuddled by, then deeply grateful for, a pipeline to Hell that crisps the despoilers of his beloved backcountry. So what if he's roastin' citizens in there like ears a corn, as his friend Plato Bucklew accuses? Wyoming needs saving from tourists and outsiders, and if the devil signs on as an ally, Zmundzinski couldn't care less.
Gilbert Wolfscale, the grim rancher in What Kind of Furniture Would Jesus Pick? loves the land with an almost obsessive devotion. Yet Wolfscale's beloved ranch is held in contempt by his citified sons, and his bewilderment is palpable and unforgettable.
As always in a book by Proulx, it is the details of plot, setting and character that hook the mind's eye and remain there after the story fades. From the hay-bale bearing flatbed, afire and hurtling through the Wyoming dawn in The Trickle Down Effect, to the alligators easing after the dumb cows encroaching on a creatively vengeful gardener in the collection-closing Florida Rental, Bad Dirt makes you want to move to Wyoming, buy a ranch and snigger at the rest of the world. Jorge A. Renaud reviews from Texas.