I stumbled into a heated debate last month with an Ivy League dude about the value of Annie Proulx' short story, and later published stand-alone book, Brokeback Mountain.
You know the work that later became a movie. But Brokeback is our bible don't ya know? How dare anyone step up to ride the dust devil mess of bad buckled assumptions, bratty Oscar victim hood and wide angled indulgences.
Remember all the Proulx worship? That her work was brave, ground breaking, and representative of western realities? In rushing to embrace all this authenticity the cultural phenomenon of Brokeback eclipsed the literary value of Brokeback.
I appreciate Proulx great writing in technique but yawned, yes yawned, through the great lengths of New Yorker destined lap dancing she engaged in even as critics fell in line to worship, almost stalker like, at the foothills of this tall tale. So invested in this perspective is the L L Bean set that some of them even went so far, as they tried to extend themselves into peer reviewed idiocy, linking the value of her writing to all this death of American Exceptionalism crap or that somehow, her penning of a really predictable story could represent the last "best-place, final stand" of the American dream. They claimed that Brokeback is really a collective mourning for the fatal wounding of our American addiction to manifest destiny.
Yes, that's right, Brokeback Mountain represented (in their minds) ALL THAT!
But really, she's not that good. This is nothing more than a story written about sheep herder cruising--one that somehow became a symbol hijacked by those who've never done more than fly over Wyoming and it became in their minds a tale representing the dead end cul-de-sacing of our addiction to the real value found in a western glance.
Yes westerners flocked to see the flick. They bought it on DVD at Walmart. But really, we wanted to see how much Alberta could pass for Wyoming.
Last month I endured this debate and now I stand corrected.
Let me step back and reevaluate Proulx. I must have missed something. And now I'd offer that this is so not great writing, its actually pathetic.
Yep, I didn't way back then and I still don't appreciate the predictability of Proulx, she with her blood succulent feedings in bar brawls and violent implied gay-bashed endings, her addiction to down low cowboy gore, and the narrow minded eastern sensibilities infecting nearly every character she portrays in this and her other stories. Her stereotypical characterizations of western homophobia, and the reality that much of the story is a direct rip off of Patricia Warren Nell's better told and far more ground breaking fiction "The Fancy Dancer", which by the way was published decades before Proulx attempt, never seems to penetrate the Brokeback debate and did not get much attention or traction from the typical critic back then when Brokeback was first published, when it landed on the Oscar nominations or even now.
The Ivy League Dude had never heard of the acclaimed writing of Nell.
The writing in Brokeback--yes it is evocative and full of memorable imagery and the tear jerker of two shirts dirty dancing in the closet and the dry cleaning send off at the end, yes, I admit it's great manipulation.
But really where is the literary rigor in that?
Is love not always a battlefield, and what of this constant craving of Proulx to reinforce a reliance on tragedy as a literary device, and her use of a distant and scary, if not hauntingly beautiful landscape as the back drop for most of her word processed bloodletting?
I still reject this sage inspired, soap-operaesque pissing and moaning, utilized by the author to reinforce a putrid prejudice of what westerners must think like. A view penned from the rancid perspective of a permanent outsider and Proulx seems incapable of turning that beauty that she acknowledges into anything other than a deceptive recipe for an unhappy ending.
Oh I know that in recent years the Proulx family bought a Wyoming ranch. These days they are all about conservation. Preserving the landscape. And yet in institutionalizing the homophobia of wide open spaces, I'd argue that her portrayal is the exception to the typical experience of what constitutes western identity. Instead I argue that Proulx writing is little more than ridiculous venting of recirculated hot air, circa the old faithful rigid expectations of the New Yorker readership, rather than any reliable accurate portrayal of western attitudes.