Annie Proulx's superlative writing is showcased once again in these moving, bittersweet tales of life in 19th-century and early 20th-century Wyoming.
In one of the best, "Them Old Cowboy Songs", we know that poor, newly married Rose and Archie, scrabbling about in the dirt trying to make a go of it with their tiny cabin and tinier dreams, are going to come to a sticky end. Sometimes the elements defeat the strongest men and women – as Proulx observes of Rose, the moment she softens and lets her guard down, "she seemed unaware that she lived in a time when love killed women".
In the more contemporary "Testimony of the Donkey", strong, muscular Catlin thinks she can take on any trail, but the landscape eventually defeats her. In "The Great Divide", competition between men to show they still have that pioneering spirit results in the loss of a father and husband.
Human beings are constantly pitting themselves against inhospitable surrounds here, and rarely come off best. Our respect for the environment is waning fast, Proulx's two tales featuring the Devil and his plans for hell show. She wants to remind us why that respect is important.