Review | Thursday 27 January 2011
The many fans of Annie Proulx’s fiction (The Shipping News, Brokeback Mountain) will be thrilled by the news she has written a memoir. As befits a writer so intimately connected to place, this is primarily a memoir about place – her ‘ideal’ home, poetically named ‘Bird Cloud’, in her beloved Wyoming. ‘The property was beautiful and unique, remote and powerful, and I fell for it, hard,’ she writes.
The book is a curious mix of renovation memoir (complete with amusing/ horrible obstacles; a varied cast of local labourers who become central characters; and lashings of house-and-home porn – odes to tile colours, rhapsodies about cement finishes), local history, and snippets of insight into Proulx’s family history and writing life. Proulx had moved ‘more than twenty times’ by the age of 15, driven by the restlessness of her French-Canadian father, the first of his ‘poor, mostly illiterate rural clan of labourers’ to break out of entrenched poverty. For him – and Proulx herself, it seems – the pursuit of the perfect home is part of that great American project of self-building. For Proulx, this means a home that reflects a harmony between her natural surrounds and the dictates of her personality and lifestyle. It seems to be a process of becoming more integrally part of a place. She quotes Jack Kerouac on ‘that horrible homelessness of all French- Canadians abroad in America’. While this exercise in nest-building is the opposite of On the Road, it’s driven by that same restlessness. Immersing herself in the region’s local history, acquainting herself with the lifestyle and habits of past inhabitants, and the wildlife of the present, is central to her enterprise. So, there is plenty of characteristically beautiful writing about her surrounds, with detailed de- scriptions of her adventures in wildlife (most especially, bird) watching.
In the end, though, the house is – as is per- haps inevitable – imperfect. Perhaps, she won- ders, ‘for me there is no perfect house’. Proulx fans and all those dreaming of (or wrestling with) their own ‘ideal home’ projects will find much to like in this unique book.