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A daily record of what I'm thinking about what I'm reading

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Saturday, March 19, 2016

Cruel World: Annie Proulx's warped vision

Apologies to the many fans of Annie Proulx and admitting that I was moved by Brokeback and somewhat entertained by Shipping News, but there's a cynicism to her work, a cruelty and a fascination with violence and suffering, that I find completely disturbing and, in fact, sensational. Her story in the current New Yorker, A Resolute Man, exemplifies this characteristic: Story appears at first to be a period piece, an adventure story from the early 18th century about a 50-year-old man who'd spent his life at sea and then, through improbable circumstances, inherits a fortune and resettles as a gentleman in the limber business in Boston. He falls in love with a woman - married to a minister - whom he meets on shipboard during his crossing to America (she's traveling solo). Disembarking in Boston, there's an accident on the tender and she is strong enough to pull him back aboard to safety. He visits her when he settles in Boston and finds her living in poverty and her husband, the minister, appears to be seriously mentally ill (and showing signs of physical abuse as well). Okay, a story of mismatched couples and unrequited love, or of illicit and forbidden love, or of passion over religion, or what? - many possible pathways this narrative could follow. But here's where Proulx takes this: the man gets the husband shipped off for "recovery" in the country, and when he learns that the minister actually is recovering he sneaks off in the night and murders him (crime never discovered). Then marries the beautiful widow and finds that she is a sexual fiend and predator who beats the crap out of him while they are having sex. And he also finds out that her beloved father - also in the lumber business, as it happens - is a horrendously crude and cruel man who speaks more coarsely than you can even fathom and boasts of introducing the daughter to sex - and yet the daughter reveres good old dad, even invites dad to join them on their honeymoon to NYC. So is this supposed to be entertaining or funny? Shocking? I say it's just part of Proulx's warped world vision - that people, men in particular, are mean and nasty and coarse and that we constantly repress our evil nature in order to live together, from time to time, as a society, a family, a couple - but our happiness is doomed to destruction. Does she really believe this - or is this just her way of writing a sensation story?

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