E. Annie Proulx's first novel, Postcards, winner of the 1993 Pen/Faulkner Award for Fiction, tells the mesmerizing tale of Loyal Blood, who misspends a lifetime running from a crime so terrible that it renders him forever incapable of touching a woman.
Blood's odyssey begins in 1944 and takes him across the country from his hardscrabble Vermont hill farm to New York, across Ohio, Minnesota, and Montana to British Columbia, on to North Dakota, Wyoming, and New Mexico and ends, today, in California, with Blood homeless and near mad. Along the way, he must live a hundred lives to survive, mining gold, growing beans, hunting fossils and trapping, prospecting for uranium, and ranching. In his absence, disaster befalls his family; greatest among their terrible losses are the hard-won values of endurance and pride that were the legacy of farm people rooted in generations of intimacy with soil, weather, plants, and seasons.
Postcards chronicles the lives of the rural and the dispossessed and charts their territory with the historical verisimilitude and writerly prowess of Cather, Dreiser, and Faulkner. It is a new American classic.
In this poignant first novel by Proulx ( Heart Songs and Other Stories ), artfully misspelled postcards form the tenuous links between ill-fated young trapper Loyal Blood and his family--Mink and Jewelle, Dub and Mernelle--who eke a meager existence from their ancestral Vermont farm. When Loyal accidentally kills his saucy redheaded sweetheart Billy while making love in the fields, he hides her body in a stone-covered fox den. Abruptly he tells his family that he and Billy are heading west to "make a new start." In a vengeful rage his father Mink shoots Loyal's cows. Loyal endures harsh years of self-imposed exile as, from 1944 to the '80s, he roves from job to job--mining, fossil picking, trapping--each authoritatively detailed. Racked with gagging seizures whenever he tries to touch another woman, sick in his lungs, Loyal doggedly accepts his lot without complaint. Back home the violent, feckless Bloods fall into ruin, attempting arson, serving jail terms and losing the farm, which is sold for trailer parks. Flurries of postcards fly, both personal and commercial: brother Dub answers one for an artificial limb, desperate sister Mernelle responds to a lonely lumberman's ad for a wife. Proulx writes a rich, sensuous prose; she captures the earthy, hard-bitten voices of men and women resigned to travail and documents the passing of an epoch. If there is a fault, it is the overabundance of minor characters randomly introduced into the narrative.
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc. -- PUBLISHERS WEEKLY.
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September 29, 1996
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Excerpt from Postcards by E. Annie Proulx
Even before he got up he knew he was on his way. Even in the midst of the involuntary orgasmic jerking he knew. Knew she was dead, knew he was on his way. Even standing there on shaking legs, trying to push the copper buttons through the stiff buttonholes he knew that everything he had done or thought in his life had to be started over again. Even if he got away.
He couldn't get any air, but stood on his knocked-out legs gasping and wheezing. It was like he'd taken a bad fall. Dazed. He could feel the blood hammering in his throat. But there was nothing else, only the gasping for breath and an abnormal acuity of vision. Mats of juniper flowed across the field like spilled water; doghair maple crowded the stone wall wavering through the trees.
He'd thought of the wall walking up the slope behind Billy, thought of it in a common way, of working on it sometime, setting back in place the stones that frost and thrusting roots had thrown out. Now he saw it as a scene drawn in powerful ink lines, the rock fissured with crumpled strings of quartz, humps of moss like shoulders shrugging out of the mold, black lignum beneath rotten bark, the aluminum sheen of deadwood.
A stone the size and shape of a car's backseat jutted out of the wall, and below it was a knob of soil that marked the entrance to an abandoned fox den. Oh Jesus, it wasn't his fault but they'd say it was. He grasped Billy's ankles and dragged her to the wall. He rolled her up under the stone, could not look at her face. There was already a waxiness to her body. The texture of her bunched stockings, the shape of her nails glowed with the luminous hardness that marks the newly dead in the moment before the flames consume or the sucking water pulls them under. The space beneath the rock was shallow. Her arm fell outward, the hand relaxed, the fingers curled as if she held a hand mirror or a Fourth of July flag.
Instinctively he translated the withering shock into work, his answer to what he did not want to understand, to persistent toothache, hard weather, the sense of loneliness. He rebuilt the wall over her, fitting the stones, copying the careless, tumbled fall of rock. A secretive reflex worked in him. When she was locked away in the wall he threw on dead leaves, tree limbs and brush, raked the drag marks and scuffed ground with a branch.
Down the back fields, keeping to the fence line, but sometimes staggering onto open ground. No feeling in his legs. The sun was going down, the October afternoon collapsing into evening. The fence posts on the margins of the fields glinted like burnished pins, the thick light plated his face with a coppery mask.
Grass eddied around his knees, the purple awns burst, scattering a hail of seed. Far below he saw the house varnished with orange light, balanced against the grove of cottonwoods, like a scene etched on a metal plate. The sag of the roof curved into shadows as delicate as a bloom of mold, thickening the trees.
In the orchard he knelt and wiped his hands over and over in the coarse grass. The trees were half wild with watersprouts and deadwood. The mournful smell of rotted fruit came into his nose. "If I get away," he said, dragging breath into his constricted throat, and briefly seeing, not what had happened up beside the wall, but his grandfather spraying the tree with Bordeaux mixture, the long wand hissing in the leaves, the poisoned codling moths bursting up like flames, the women and children, himself, on the ladder picking apples, the strap of the bag cutting into his shoulder, the empty oak-splint baskets under the trees and the men loading the full baskets into a wagon, the frigid packing room, old Roseboy with his sloping, bare neck and his dirty hat, pointed like a cone, nothing but a trimmed-up old syrup filter, tapping on the barrel heads, serious, saying over and over, "Take it easy now, one rotten apple spoils the whole goddamn barrel."
Evening haze rose off the hardwood slopes and blurred a sky discolored like a stained silk skirt. He saw and heard everything with brutal clarity; yet the thing that had happened up beside the wall was confused. Coyotes singing along the edge of the duck marsh called in fluming howls. Wet hand ticking the skeletal bean poles, he walked through the withered garden. Moths like pinches of pale dust battered in his wake.