Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bird Cloud

Annie Proulx

Although she won both a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize in 1994, Annie Peoulx didn't become a hot property until her novel The Shipping News (2001 and her short story Brokeback Mountain (2005) were made into movies. What she did with the money she made from those movie deals was to buy a section (640 acres or one square mile) of land in Wyoming and build herself a house on it. Once the house was well under way she realized that she wouldn't be able to live there in the winter because the county doesn't plow her road when it snows.

Bird Cloud, the name Proulx gave to her new property, has the North Platte river running through and contains the mouth of Jack Creek, named after Ute Jack, a Ute Indian of some small renown. I can't seem to find the place on Google Maps. There is a cover photo of the magnificent high cliff which Proulx's new house overlooks, across the river but still on the property. We're talking some serious real estate here.

Proulx bought the land from The Nature Conservancy. She is critical of that organization for it's failure to keep the neighboring ranches' cattle of of the overgrazed section and implies, in the book, that The Nature Conservancy is a front for cattle business interests. The fact that her six miles of expensive barbed wire fence don't succeed in keeping those cows off the land lead me to suspect that this issue may have had a role in The Nature Conservancy's putting the land up for sale in the first place. I'm thinking that they concluded that it was best to spend their finite resources on something other than a futile effort to build the perfect fence.

The book begins with a bit of history of Annie Proulx's French Canadian and New England Yankee parents and ancestors, going back briefly to the 17th century. She quickly brings the book around to the main subject, which could be read as a textbook on how not to build a house. This is important to me because I am in the beginning stages of a house construction project of my own. It's not my first, though. I gather it was hers.

Except for taking more than two years to build and running over budget by a couple of hundred thousand dollars, and that little thing about the snowplowing, Proulx got just what she asked for in her house. She remains friends with her  general contractor, an important thing, since he often comes and plows her out when it snows heavily before she heads south to New Mexico for the winter. (It seems to happen every year) Not so much the concrete finisher(s).

It is a wonderful place, with elk,  coyotes, bald eagles, golden eagles, pre-Columbian dwelling sites and stone (for tools) quarry and lots of rich history. I would love to visit. If the author would like to extend an invitation . . .

This post is in the 68th
Book Review Blog Carnival
Published at Imagineering.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

An Object of Beauty

Steve Martin

This is the third novel by the banjo playing stand up comic, remembered for his arrow through the head bit. It's not funny. It is an engrossing character study with enough of a plot to keep you reading.

An Object of Beauty follows the career of Lacey Yeager, a bright, beautiful young art dealer in New York through the late nineties and early oughts from the point of view of an also young art writer, who finds himself involved in a bit of shady dealing at a Sotheby's art auction in which Lacey makes a bit of unearned money. The novel is mostly about the art market during the tech bubble boom times with a lot of sex and a smattering of designer drugs thrown in.

The moral consequences of taking short cuts in business are touched on, lightly. The narrator is relieved  at not being outed for his small part, though Lacey does not entirely face the consequences of her action, either. Just like in real life, there is some ambiguity about things, not a cut and dried lesson to be learned.

September 11th 2001 sits in the middle of this novel like a stain. It would be pretty strange to have a novel about the beginning of the 21st century, especially one set in New York, that didn't mention that day. In this book nine eleven signals the end of the book times in the art world and the beginning of the failure of Lacey's gallery. If she hadn't bought into a deal to trade in a contemporary Chinese artist, just before the Dow tanked, though, everything would have been fine. The real moral of the story is: timing is everything and nobody knows what time it is.

This post is in the 68th
Book Review Blog Carnival
Published at Izgad.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

With Reckless Abandon

Memoirs of a Boat-Obsessed Life
Capt. Jim Sharp

Bilbo Baggins warned us to beware when setting foot on a road, because you never know when and where you might get swept away. This advice also, obviously applies to setting foot on a boat. Jim Sharp, son of a jazz musician turned payday lender, went in with some friends to buy an old, plywood trailer sailor to launch at the Jersey shore and ended up owning a fleet of windjammers in Camden Maine.

Between 1953 and 2006 Jim Sharp's boat obsession led to his ownership of an impressive list of old, mostly wooden, boats. I count 35 of them, from 14' to 120' in length. Some were schooners, others tugboats. One was a Norwegian coastal freighter, another a Dutch canal boat. He wore out his welcome with two wives in the process of buying, running and selling all these boats. He also managed to make some sort of a living from them.

A friend lent me this book, which he got from the author, now master of a maritime museum up there in the Moon Pie state. I found it the perfect book to stoke my Spring fever.