Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx

Photo: Marko Metzinger/Studio D

5 of 15
Bird Cloud
256 pages; Scribner
"Why would anybody live here, I think. I live here," writes Annie Proulx in Bird Cloud, a memoir about how she ended up building a ranch in Wyoming. In anyone else's hands, the architectural minutiae and bureaucratic wrangling required to construct a dream home at the edge of a cliff on 640 acres, all subject to 70-mile-an-hour winds, might sound as boring as a lengthy sermon on a sweltering Sunday. But Proulx's masterly prose coupled with her obsessive research on history, ecology, and genealogy (she discovers that the first Proulx arrived in North America in 1666) sustains the reader—even through a whole chapter on the decimation of lodgepole pines by the mountain pine beetle. Although you get to know her house, the interior life of this enigmatic writer is still mostly shuttered—she once married an air force man and lived in Japan, a detail she slips in when talking about a Japanese ofuro bathtub. And yet every nugget she offers up is pure gold: "Well do I know my own character negatives—bossy, impatient, reclusively shy, short-tempered, single-minded. The good parts are harder to see, but I suppose a fair dose of sympathy and even compassion is there, a by-product of the writer's imagination. I can and do put myself in others' shoes constantly."
— Kristy Davis