The Books: “Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2″ – ‘The Wamsutter Wolf’ (Annie Proulx)

c10193.jpgDaily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction

Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 by Annie Proulx – excerpt from the story ‘The Wamsutter Wolf’.

A lot of Annie Proulx’s stories are dominated by silence and space. Maybe there’s wind, the sound of snow on the windshield – but her people, in general, are not talkers. But ‘The Wamsutter Wolf’ is so “noisy”, so crowded – that I ended up aching for Buddy (the lead character) to get away, get away … so he could at least hear himself think! Buddy Millar is a drifter, not really tied down to anyone. Well, he’s a bit tied to his parents – who are openly disappointed and angry at him, for the way he lives his life. Buddy tried to work for his father, but that didn’t work out. His dad has a temper, and Buddy couldn’t take it. He is broke, he eventually rents a trailer for forty bucks a month in a bleak place called Wamsutter – it’s filthy, but he can’t afford anything else. There’s a big dirty loud family who lives in the trailer next door – Buddy watches them from afar for a while, gives them nicknames (Fat Wife, Big Dad) – and it eventually becomes clear (and that’s in the excerpt below) that Buddy went to high school with the mother and father (their names are Cheri and Rase). This is not an overwhelmingly joyful reunion – Rase is a sociopath who smashed Buddy’s face into the pavement in grade school. Cheri was pathetic in high school and she’s pathetic now. They live in squalor. This is not about being poor. This is about not giving a crap about where you live. This is about being so lazy you can’t ever wash a dish. The kids are filthy. Their parents let them drink beer, to start them young. Annie Proulx has never been so mean. She’s merciless. Buddy is the only one here who comes off looking okay … he’s actually kind of sensitive, and he’s doing the best he can. But he gets sucked into the disgusting family drama across the way, and increasingly he feels he cannot escape. Cheri and Rase both treat him as an intimate, there’s no polite neighborliness – these people have no boundaries whatsoever, with anyone – and Buddy comes home sometimes and Cheri is sleeping on the floor of his trailer because she had a fight with Rase. Rase is a terrible character. A violent ignorant man with a giant chip on his shoulder. Poor Buddy. He tries to be polite at first, after all he went to high school with these people – and they’re all grown up now, right? The past is in the past, right? Buddy realizes very quickly the error of letting such people into his life. These people are barely civilized. It’s horrible. A horrible story. Well written but I was sure glad when it was over.

Here’s an excerpt.

EXCERPT FROM Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 by Annie Proulx – excerpt from the story ‘The Wamsutter Wolf’.

Fat Wife opened the door. The smell of cigarette smoke came with her.

“Yeah?” she said, lighting another.

“Hi. I’m your neighbor – Buddy Millar. Uh – I’m having a little problem with your dogs. Dog. the brown one.” Two were black and one was brown, all of indeterminate breed.

“Buddy Millar! I knew there was something. I told Rase you looked real familiar.”

He stared at her. The frizzled red hair showed dark at the roots, and the long ends straggled across her shoulders like damp raffia, the finer strands caught in the fleece fabric of the grimy anorak she wore. Her face was so oily it seemed metaled. Behind her he could see a brown chair, the floor littered with clothing and toys.

“I’m Cheri. Cheri Bise back in high school. Cheri Wham now. Me and Rase Wham got married.”

Slowly it came to him, the high school bully, Rase Wham, had dropped out in tenth grade. Wham had been a vicious sociopath. Cheri Bise, the overweight slut whose insecurity made her an easy sexual conquest, had disappeared around the same time.

“Come on in, have a cup of coffee.” There was a highway of festering pimples alongside her nose. She cleared a path in the debris by kicking toys left and right. Reluctantly he went inside. It stank of cigarettes, garbage, and feces. The television set stuttered colors.

“What are you doing down here?” he asked, taking shallow breaths.

“Rase is workin for Halliburton now. He used a work for a drillin outfit but the well froze and there was a blowout and it kind a hurt him. He had a concussion. Last year. And I work Fridays in the school cafeteria.”

He understood from the tone in her voice that she considered the cafeteria job a career.

“Barbette’s in school, second grade, and that’s Vernon Clarence – ” She pointed at the dull-faced boy of four or five holding a box of Cracker Jacks. “And that’s the baby, Lye.” The diaper-clad baby was crawling toward them, his sticky fingers furred with lint and clutching a tiny red car that Buddy recognized as an Aston Martin. The kid, clinging to Buddy’s knee, clawed himself upright and thrust the toy at him.

“Caw!” said the child.

“Yes, it’s a nice car,” said Buddy. In the room beyond he could see a bed heaped with grimy blankets.


Cheri reheated stale coffee in a saucepan, poured the pungent liquid into mugs emblazoned GO POKES, set one before him. She did not proffer milk nor sugar. She sat down at the table and blew on her coffee.

“And we’re expectin the next one in December, week before Christmas. It’s ahrd ona kid have a birthday that close a Christmas, but you sure don’t think a that when you’re doin it.” She had a spit-frilled way of talking.

The baby was staring at Buddy with savage intensity, as though he were going to utter a great scientific truth never before known. His face reddened and the vein in his forehead stood out. He grunted and with an explosive burst filled his diaper.

While Cheri changed him on the kitchen table less than eighteen inches from Buddy’s coffee cup, he looked around to avoid watching her mop at Lye’s besmeared buttocks and scrotum. On the floor several feathers were stuck in a coagulated blob. Wads of trodden gum appeared as archipelagoes in a mud-colored sea while bits of popcorn, string ends, torn paper, a crushed McDonald’s cup, and candy wrappers made up the flotsam. An electric wall heater stuck out into the room. On top of it were three coffee mugs, two beer cans, several brimming ashtrays, a tiny plastic fox, and a prescription bottle. Through the amber plastic of the bottle he could see the dark forms of capsules.

There was a sudden plop as Cheri threw the loaded diaper into an open pail already seething with banana peels, coffee grounds, and prehistoric diapers.

The older child, Vernon Clarence, edged along the sofa toward the wall heater. His small hands grasped a beer can and shook it. He dropped it on the floor and tried the other, which responded with a promising slosh. He drank the dregs, warm beer running down his chin and soaking his pajama top. Buddy wondered if he should mention to Cheri that the kid was drinking beer, decided against it. The freshly emptied can rolled under the sofa.

Cheri suddenly got up, lunged for the cupboard, and retrieved a package. She shook several small bright pink cakes bristling with shredded coconut onto a chipped saucer.

“Go on! Take one!” She held the saucer in front of his face as Lye had held the toy car.

He took one. A coconut point stuck into his finger like a staple. He put the cake on the table. Lye seized it and mumbled “Caw!” as he gummed the confection. From across the room Vernon Clarence started to bawl, pointing eloquently at Lye, whose face was crowded by the pink mass.

“Here you go! Catch!” shouted Cheri, hurling a cake at the child. It hit an ashtray on the coffee table and sent butts and ash flying.

“I’ve got a get going,” said Buddy, rising. “I just wanted to mention about the dogs – dog. And introduce myself.”

“Well, I’m thrilled,” said Cheri. “I always had a big crush on you in school. All the girls thought you was cute. Rase will just about pass out when I tell him who our new neighbor is.” She snapped a cigarette from the package on the table.

“Say hello to him for me,” said Buddy, struggling with the door latch, which was some devious childproof design. He glanced around the room as he backed out. The fastidious Vernon Clarence was picking a cigarette butt from his confectionary prize.

Buddy’s trailer seemed a cozy haven in contrast with the Whams’, and he quickly made his bed and washed the dishes lest he become like them.

This entry was posted in Books and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to The Books: “Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2″ – ‘The Wamsutter Wolf’ (Annie Proulx)

  1. Brian says:

    Buddy Millar? I wonder if Annie is a fan of singer/guitarist/producer Buddy Miller? Which reminds me of your previous post because Buddy’s wife, Julie Miller wrote the song “Orphan Train” a few years back. Maybe Julie obsessed over the movie as well.

  2. David Jones says:

    My Professor says that the theme of the story, The Wamsutter Wolf is about Buddy’s father’s reconciliation. My opinion is that the author was drawing a picture of the distinction between men, and animals. Which raises my question, can a essay have more than one theme, or main idea ?

  3. sheila says:

    David – I think it can, although most short stories have only one. There’s really not enough room for more.

  4. sheila says:

    I like your theme. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts about it, if you feel like sharing.

  5. hanna says:

    what was the relationship between cheri and rase like?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.