March 22, 2011

Bird Cloud

Annie Proulx won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel, The Shipping News, a book I didn't like that much but which nevertheless kept me somehow mesmerized. Her latest book, Bird Cloud, has many more of the elements I love in a good read.

It's the true story of a house she built in the high country of Wyoming - a finely crafted house incorporating everything she's learned about what she'd like in a house. Like W.B. Yeats, Proulx has a wonderful sense of place. She surrounds the story of the building of her house with stories of the houses she's lived in before, of what's happening in the natural landscape around the construction site, and especially what has happened there over the past millennia.

The book might drag for some near the end where she devotes a long chapter to the ornithology around her new home, but the writing is so gorgeous ("The extra pair of ravens came from nowhere, like black origami conjured from expert fingers")that it may keep you going even if you don't like birds that much.

I loved the architectural details of the house but kept feeling as though I was falling into a pit when feature after expensive feature of her meticulously planned house didn't work out as planned. For example, a beautiful tall window in her writing room that framed a huge old tree where eagles sat was suddenly framing nothing the year she moved in because the tree blew over in a windstorm.

It's a good read - Proulx is a master writer with wide-ranging interests. Her curiosity and unrelenting (I say unrelenting because there is something of the "bulldozer" in her) intelligence shine through every page. The great underlying question in the book is whether the house is actually going to work out and be the final home of which she had dreamed. I'm not telling - you'll have to read it if you'd like to know!

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