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Brokeback Mountain - Annie Proulx

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Genre: Fiction / Author: Annie Proulx / Paperback / 58 Pages / Book is published 1998-10-01 by Fourth Estate Ltd

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      27.10.2009 10:25
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      Highly recommended

      I've always wanted to see the film based on this novel, since everyone raved about it when it was released, but put it off until I had read the book. This wasn't a pressing desire, more a kind of 'add to the mental To Be Read pile' notion. In fact, I may have continued to vaguely intend to read it for many more years if it hadn't been this month's book group choice.

      == First impressions ==

      I was instantly struck by the slimness of the volume: I'd had no idea that this was a short story. In fact, as this story has a mere 58 small pages of approximately size 14 font, I had time to read a good 16th of it while I waited for the librarian to hunt out the other book I had reserved! If I'd gone to have a coffee, this book probably wouldn't have made it home unread. Now, while this didn't exactly put me off, I did wonder whether or not I would enjoy reading it: I'm quite a fan of detailed, winding stories and text. In fact, Charles Dickens is my favourite writer, so next to 'Hard Times' or 'Bleak House' this looked a little insubstantial!

      After reading the blurb, I was even more nervous about the degree of reading enjoyment this book could provide. Lonely cowboys? Harsh environment? Danger? It sounded to me quite a bit like 'Of Mice and Men', which I love, and I wondered if this would be like my recent 'Twilight' experience (verdict: not a patch on 'Interview with a Vampire').

      However, to balance out these concerns - it was 58 pages. And I'd read four of them. Given that, there was no reason to ignore the rest.

      == The plot ==

      'Brokeback Mountain' follows the hard, lonely lives of Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar in Wyoming 'thirty years ago'. They meet young and enjoy each other's company, quickly developing a relationship that jolts into an intense physical affair. As the years pass, they meet infrequently but the passion simmers, ferocious and unabated. Will they ever be able to admit their feelings - even to each other? Can a story set in such harsh terrain have a happy ending?

      == My thoughts ==

      Initially I found the pace moved so quickly and the prose was so slight that I couldn't really differentiate between the characters. Even after the characters were first physically intimate, I had to go back and reread most of the first few pages to develop a sense of which was which and how they differed. Once I had finally pinned them down, they sustained clearly distinct personalities for the remainder of the story, always acting 'in character'.

      Despite the brevity of her prose, Proulx does manage to convey a sense of life when summing up the responses of her characters through telling details. Ennis' concern with appearances is revealed when 'he wanted to be a sophomore, felt the word carried a certain distinction'. The unlikelihood of him realising his dreams is also succinctly described: 'both Jack and Ennis claimed to be saving money for a small spread; in Ennis's case this meant a tobacco can with two five-dollar bills inside'. Once I had adapted to this concise style, I enjoyed the slower reading pace this encouraged. I felt that I needed to really let the details of their lives sink in, much as Proulx herself had to do in order to write these characters and their lives.

      The action is spread over twenty odd years so there are some jumps in time but usually the gaps are smoothed over by narrative that briskly fills in the key information. There are very few moments developed in detail which has the effect of heightening those that are developed. At these points, Proulx relies on dialogue to express and simultaneously avoid expressing her character's true feelings. The tension between Twist and del Mar is emphasised through the forceful vocabulary they use and the silences that pepper these conversations, creating an engaging tale for the reader.

      Proulx is as concise with her use of events as she is with her use of dialogue. I found the casual references to violence quite shocking, but del Mar's easy acceptance of violence he has witnessed as a child both reveals the attitudes of his culture and creates a sense of (justified) foreboding. Without ever seeming to 'push' the issue of homosexuality, Proulx creates a tender and frustrating tale that forced me to genuinely contemplate the lives these fictional men endured. For me, that made this a successful read.

      == Conclusion ==

      I think in a lot of ways this story might be classified as a 'slow burner'. It took me at least a third of the story to adapt to the style, but once I did so I read with increasing engagement. I hesitate to use the word 'enjoyment' because this is a serious story, concentrating on a life-changing relationship.

      Finally, I have to say that this story made a genuine impact on me. Del Mar concludes, 'if you can't fix it, you've got to stand it'. My instant response was: I want to fix it! This was followed by a more reasoned deliberation, and I'm still thinking about the issues raised by this book over a week after I finished reading it.

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    • Product Details

      Film tie-in edition of the story by Annie Proulx, now a movie starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Randy Quaid, Anne Hathaway and Heath Ledger. Brokeback Mountain is set in the beautiful, wild landscape of Wyoming where cowboys live as they have done for generations. Hard, lonely lives in unforgiving country. Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar are two ranch hands -- 'drop-out country boys with no prospects, brought up to hard work and privation, both rough-mannered, tough spoken' -- glad to have found each other's company where none had been expected. But companionship becomes something else on Brokeback Mountain, something not looked for, something deadly.