Tuesday, October 28, 2014

That Old Ace in the Hole

Frankly, because of my experience with both of the other Annie Proulx novels I've read, I was a little reluctant to even begin reading her 2002 novel That Old Ace in the Hole. I found both "The Shipping News" and "Accordion Crimes" (well written as they are) to be a little too somber, almost depressing, to suit my tastes, but this one was very different.

That Old Ace in the Hole is the story of one Bob Dollar, a young man from Denver so desperately in need of work that he takes a job as a scout for the Global Pork Rind company. Bad as that company name is, the actual job is even worse. As scout, it is up to Bob to find Texas Panhandle ranchers and farmers willing to sell their acreage to him regardless of the fact that his company plans to place gigantic, smelly hog farms on their property. Because the massive hog farms run by Global Pork Rind are so ruinous to the environment and so unpleasant for the neighboring farms to be around, Bob is "encouraged" to lie and cheat in any way necessary to get the aging ranchers to sign their names on the dotted line.

Bob Dollar, though, finds himself enjoying life in little Woolybucket, Texas, so much that he just can't quite bring himself to disclose his real purpose in the town. This premise allows Proulx to tell the history of the region through the wonderful characters she creates for the novel (men and women Bob Dollar is trying to deceive into selling their property), all of them descendants of those who settled that part of the state when Indians were still a constant danger.  

Proulx's writing (and certainly her plot) reminds me a bit of the kind of comic western that Larry McMurtry writes.  McMurtry fans will easily take to this novel and might be surprised to learn that someone out there can actually top Mr. McMurtry at his own game sometimes. I came away from That Old Ace in the Hole wishing I had not waited so long to read it.

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