By Annie Proulx
240 pages; Scribner
The devil is at work in Wyoming again, and Annie Proulx has been recording his progress in her third collection of vivid tales from the Equality State, Fine Just the Way It Is (Scribner). In a story set in the late 1800s, a young, pregnant homesteader named Rose McLaverty is left alone by her cowboying husband, dies in childbirth, and gets eaten slowly, all winter long, by an enterprising weasel. In contemporary Wyoming, a well-muscled outdoorswoman named Caitlin is trapped by a boulder in a remote canyon and dies from exposure, staring at "a sky veneered with pink pearl, the black ridge against it serrated with pine tops like obsidian spear blades." There are two stories in which the Dark One himself, suspiciously resembling a real estate developer, sets out to remodel hell—the old version has become too appealing to environmentalists and off-the-grid types. But it is in the tour de force finale—in which Dakotah, a Wyoming girl sent off to Iraq, makes an odds-against stab at love and loses everything—that we see the method in Proulx's genius, where her enchanting description, unparalleled sentence structure, and unwavering insight combine to reveal both the coldest and the most resilient recesses of the human heart.