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on 24 March 2006
Previous reviewers here have not always made it clear that it is a collection of eleven stories, of which "Brokeback Mountain", representing just thirty-five pages, is the last. The collection was originally published as "Close Range: Wyoming Stories", and, to tie in with the movie, has been reissued and retitled "Close Range/Brokeback Mountain and other stories", with, of course, cover photographs of Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal against a backdrop of scenery from the Ang Lee movie.
The majority of readers will come to this volume, as I did, having already seen the film, and so turn straight to page 283. The story "Brokeback Mountain" is quickly recognizable as the inspiration behind the film, and is as such doubtless the best introduction to Annie Proulx's complex and brilliantly dense prose-style. Some of the dialogue in the film comes directly from that in the story, while other elements feature in the narrative part. For example: "the brilliant charge of their infrequent couplings was darkened by the sense of time flying, never enough time, never enough." [In the film, the words "never enough time, never enough" are spoken by Jack Twist.]
Despite the easily recognisable overall situation, reading the short story is, of course, a significantly different experience from watching the film. The female characters generally speaking feature relatively little in the story, and Jack's first meeting with his wife is absent, for example, as is the Thanksgiving confrontation between Jack and his father-in-law. However, there are also elements in the story which were left out of the movie, a particularly unsettling one being a late revelation about the conflict between Jack and his father, glossed over in the movie when Jack briefly mentions that his father never had any time for him. What is related in the story is considerably more disturbing.
As for the other ten stories, ranging in length from just one page to something over forty, my personal feeling is that the longer ones are the better ones [and that the one-page one hardly qualifies to be included in the first place...] But Proulx writes brilliantly throughout, sometimes with acerbic humour [one female character is "distinguished by a physique approaching the size of a hundred-gallon propane tank"; there are "women with eyebrows like crowbars" and men with "knuckles the size of new potatoes"]. Fans of the movie coming in search of more gay cowboys will, I'm afraid, be disappointed, but there is plenty here dealing with the darker side of human hearts and psyches, and some very dark moments indeed. As one of the character-narrators puts it, human emotions are fuelled by "...the little running grass-fires of the heart, the kind that usually die out on their own but in some people soar into uncontrollable conflagration." Which applies aptly to Ennis and Jack. More generally, though, it is those uncontrollable conflagrations and their devastating consequences which make all these stories what they are. Be warned: they are difficult - but they are unforgettable.