Wednesday, January 5, 2011


In yesterday’s New York Times the blessed Dwight Garner reviewed E. Annie Proulx’s new book Bird Cloud which is her account of building a dream home in Wyoming.  Garner guts the book, filets and flays it, and tosses it into the compost bin.

He quotes this truly remarkable food-related sentence from Proulx: “I like a colorful, handily cluttered kitchen and Bird Cloud’s cabinets and drawers in red, violet, aquamarine, burnt orange, cobalt, lime, brick, John Deere green and skipjack blue inspires stir-fries, osso buco, grilled prawns, Argentinean salads of butterhead lettuce, tomato, sweet onion, roast lamb with Greek cucumber and dill sauce, frittatas, rhubarb sauce with glasses of dry Riesling for the cook. You bet.”

Garner adds, “I’m sure I’ve read worse sentences from a National Book Award-winning writer,” but then he’s definitely read a lot more books than I have.  And to be fair to both of them, he does profess an admiration for her earlier work.  How early I’m not sure.

Proulx is best known, of course, for the short story Brokeback Mountain, but long before she had a reputation for fiction, she wrote a number of how to-books including Sweet & Hard Cider: Making It, Using It, and Enjoying It, and The Gourmet Gardener: Growing Choice Fruits and Vegetables with Spectacular Results. 

There was a profile in the New York Times in 1994 headlined “At Home With: E. Annie Proulx.” Sara Rimer visited her as she was preparing a dinner party.  She cooked a rabbit, and one of the guests brought a homemade flan.  The profile says Proulx published her first short story in Gourmet Magazine when she was in her early 20s, which would date it to the middle or late 1950s, although scholars differ on these matters.  Both a SF magazine called If and Seventeen are also cited as possible first appearances.

The Gourmet story was “The Garlic War” in fact published in 1964 when Proux would have been nearly 30 rather than early 20s.  You can find it online in the Gourmet archives.  I don’t think many writers would want to be judged on their first published short story (if that’s what it is) but it does contain another spectacular food-related line, thus: “… the fragrant aroma of garlic smote Hubert’s nostrils and his eyes flashed wildly for a moment.”

Hubert is determined to give up garlic, but as with the Brokeback boys, some appetites just won’t go away.  You bet.

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