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

c10193.jpgDaily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction

Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 by Annie Proulx – excerpt from the story ‘Dump Junk’.

A woman dies, and it is up to her two children to sort out all of her “junk”, accumulated over her lifetime. The woman who died was 102 – so her kids are ripe old ages of 80+. It appears that the dead woman had never thrown a damn thing out, and her house is overflowing with STUFF. It’s an overwhelming task. She was a packrat. What is there to salvage? Anything? Christina and Bobcat – the “kids” – get a truck to load up the junk … but before they can load it up they need to go through everything. It is an enormous task. Two of the nephews in the family show up to help haul the stuff into the truck. Christina and Bobcat look through relics … memories spouting up, but much of the stuff is incomprehensible, and they can’t imagine why she saved EVERYTHING. Christina and Bobcat had both moved away from Wyoming – years ago – years and years – and they haven’t really kept in touch. Maybe Christmas cards. So meeting up again, in this kind of morbid atmosphere, is powerful – a bizarre familiy reunion. If I am recalling correctly, the whole story turns on an ancient teakettle … which Christina feels is hers. It’s her “inheritance”. In the midst of the piled-up paper bags (apparently her mother never ever threw away a paper bag) … Christina eyes the teakettle. It is hers. Struggling with feeling like they both are teenagers again, confronted by the world they fled from … Christina and Bobcat painstakingly go through everything. The teakettle, though, takes on almost a conscious form … as though it is sentient. Typical Proulx – who has a thing about “things”. Things have an inner life. The tractor in “The Bunchgrass Edge of the world” (excerpt here), the accordion in her novel Accordion Crimes … Objects that have an inner life are often not benign. They mean something. Bad luck. An omen. The teakettle is no different.

There’s something meaner in Bad Dirt than in Close Range, Proulx’s other collection of “Wyoming Stories”. She seems to enjoy tormenting her characters. She stands above them, a cackling God, throwing disaster in their paths. No emotion. It’s certainly a kind of perspective, but I have to say I miss the universal transcendence of Close Range (and the characters there are hardly all good or all heroic … but Proulx seems “closer” to them somehow).

Anyway, here’s an excerpt. I love how Proulx describes objects. I learn a lot from her as a writer.

EXCERPT FROM Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2 by Annie Proulx – excerpt from the story ‘Dump Junk’.

In the house Christina, Patsy, and Wendy struggled with the mass of folded paper sacks.

“There are just hundreds! Now I save some of the plastic bags, but these – they’re all mouse droppings and dust.” The paper bags stuck to one another in great chunks as though they were trying to return to their earliest incarnation as trees.

“Watch out, Aunt Christina, you can get hantavirus messing with mouse droppings.”

“I’m not messing. I’ve got on my rubber gloves, and I’m just putting these awful old sacks into a big trash bag. She must have seen she wasn’t getting any use out of them after a few years, but she just kept on saving them.”

“I don’t think so.” Patsy pulled a grocery receipt from one of the sacks on top of the pile. “Actually I think she stopped somewhere along the line. Look at the date – it’s 1954. She must have stopped back then.” She pulled out a sack near the bottom and found a handwritten grocery slip for a hundred pounds each of flour and sugar dated 1924. The amount paid was small as there was a notation that she had brought in six dozen fresh eggs to trade against her purchases.

“I remember those chickens,” said Christina. “There were quiet a few and she was very particular about them. I always believed she thought more of her chickens than her children.”

“I’d feel better if we had some dust masks, handling this stuff,” said Wendy, who was the fussier of Bobcat’s daughters.

The old lady had gone in for jars, fabric scraps, and old clothing that might be used in a quilt, and, of course, recipes. She was a tireless clipper of recipes for Golden Raisin Hermits, Devil’s Food cake, pickles, leftovers masquerading under such names as “Pigs in Potatoes” (leftover sausages and cold mashed potatoes), “Roman Holiday” (leftover spaghetti with chopped string beans), “Salmon Loaf” (canned salmon, more leftover spaghetti). For decades Vivian Stifle had pasted the recipes in notebooks, account boos, novels, and books of instruction, each collection dated on the flyleaf. There were dozens of them lined up in the parlor glass-fronted bookcase. The recipes disclosed that the Stifles’ diet was dominated by a sweet tooth of enormous proportion. The old lady must have used ten pounds of sugar a week on chocolate cream pie, “Filled Cookies from Oklahoma,” and cream cake. She made her own maraschino cherries, too, and ketchup, the old kind of mincemeat that called for chopped beef, suet, and leftover pickles juice steeped in a crock – food that nobody now knew how to make. Still, the corporate food purveyors had been making headway, for many of the recipes featured Crisco, Borden evaporated milk, Kingsford cornstarch, and other mass-produced foodstuffs. Sometime in the 1950s she had stopped collecting recipes. The last book on the shelf was dated 1955, and there were only a few recipes pasted onto the pages of a Reader’s Digest condensed book.

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

1 Response to The Books: “Bad Dirt: Wyoming Stories 2″ – ‘Dump Junk’ (Annie Proulx)

  1. The Books: “Mating” (Norman Rush)

    Next book on my adult fiction bookshelf: Mating: A Novelby Norman Rush I don’t even know where to start. I’m scared. Someone hold me. This is one of my most important books. Definitely a desert island book. One of the…

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.