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Issue 48 - Out at the frontier

Whisky Magazine Issue 48
June 2005

 

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Out at the frontier

In Brokeback Mountain, Annie Proulx' view of cowboys is unconventional and controversial. Jefferson Chase reports

There are authors who write about what they know and those who write about what they've learned.

Close Range, Annie Proulx' 1999 collection of short stories, is a case of the latter. Proulx, a long-time journalist who only began writing fiction in her 50s, is a native New Englander. But Close Range – and especially its centerpiece Brokeback Mountain – shows how thoroughly she mastered the roughhewn, fatalistic idiom of rural Wyoming, where she first moved in 1995.

Brokeback Mountain is the story of Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar, two latter-day cowpokes who meet as teenagers in the early 1960s, when they are employed as sheep herders. The landscape is bleak, and the work tedious, but Jack and Ennis find pleasure in a male bonding ritual as old as the American West itself.

They had a high-time supper by the fire, a can of beans each, fried potatoes and a quart of whiskey shared, sat with their backs against a log, boot soles and copper jeans rivets hot, swapping the bottle while the lavender sky drained down, drinking, smoking cigarettes, getting up every now and then to piss...

The scene is straight out of a thousand Westerns going all the way back to James Fenimore Cooper – but like the name of one of the protagonists, there's a twist. Soon, Jack and Ennis discover another form of male-bonding: homosexuality.

The two move on and get married, but the past haunts them. Four years later, Jack shows up at Ennis' house with the suggestion that they stake a ranch together...

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