Bingo, Gordon Matta-Clark
A FEW YEARS AGO at a reading in Los Angeles, I asked Annie Proulx if she was ever bedeviled by a character leading her off on a wild goose chase in the middle of a book. In a tone that indicated she did not suffer fools, she replied, “Absolutely not. I write the ending first and that way I know where each character will wind up.” Bird Cloud, her new memoir about building a dream home in Wyoming, is the first work I’ve read of Proulx’s where the geese give her a run for her money.read more
Partly, that’s the nature of memoir — as long as we’re alive the story’s not over — but the many digressions in Bird Cloud suggest something more. It’s as though in this, her first commitment to full-scale self-disclosure, Proulx discovers as she writes how unwilling she is to pony up to the details — whether about love, children, rivalries, or any other interpersonal dealings. She’d rather share the life of her mind, taking us along as she investigates the extraordinary range of phenomena that intrigue her. Proulx is a writer who freely offers the fruits of her remarkable curiosity; vulcanology, anthropology, history, geology, and archaeology are all subjects she devours. When something seizes her interest, she undertakes expeditions and communes with experts. The result is material that sparkles with depth and specificity: when viewing a fault line in a cliff at Bird Cloud, she muses that the earth is “in slow, constant flux, inexorably shoving continental plates together, pulling them apart, making new oceans and enormous super continents, a vast new Pangaea Proxima predicted hundreds of millions of years from now, long after our species has exited the scene.”
Naturally such a precise, prescient thinker has given great consideration to what she requires in a house. Proulx believes she knows what she wants, and how to get it. She has the land, the architect and a long, lovely wish list: space for books, space to lay out research materials, space to write; correct and conscious sources of light; rooms that admit only the sounds of nature (not the clanking of rancorous pipes). The author envisions a shelter in harmony with this land, and a haven for its indigenous flora and fauna as well.
Though Proulx maintains stern control in her fiction and in her conception of the perfect house, it seems that in writing about her life she has found herself at the mercy of an endless and varied string of locales that seize her imagination and compel her to describe them. When she discovered Newfoundland, she wrote The Shipping News. Heart Songs and Other Stories was the result of a sojourn in New England. And Close Range: Wyoming Stories was the result of Proulx’s having immersed herself in the West.
These works have garnered Proulx nearly every writing award in the known universe: she is the first woman to receive the PEN/Faulkner Award (for her first novel, Postcards...