Annie Proulx is one of the most renowned American writers, way above the average.
Her books have been awarded with the Pulitzer Prize, National Book Award, PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, O.Henry Award. Many films are based on her books.
Her style leaves you speechless. Nothing is superfluous, not an adjective, not a metaphor, not a single word. Everything she omits and leaves them up to the reader, are just as important.
I found by chance in the public library a collection of short stories of hers, in which the story of “Brokeback Mountain” was included and later it was adapted into a movie by Ang Lee.
I had already seen the movie, which is undoubtedly extraordinary, but the result of the millions of dollars that were invested in it and the collective labour of so many people, is not as impressive as to what Annie Proulx achieved, in less than thirty pages no less.
The plot of the story is totally melodrama-free. It’s purely tragic and tough, just like the characters’ background.
Jack and Ennis are cowboys, having no remarkable skills or sensitivities. Tough men, tired by accident of birth, compromised with their fate – just like a fish that knows nothing about water.
They had both signed up for the tending of the same sheep flock in Brokeback Mountain; and there, they have sex. Proulx describes it bluntly just like that, making no reference to love. If I’m not mistaken, this word is nowhere to be seen in the story.
When the summer is over and the job is done and they have to part from each other, Ennis said to Jack:
“You should know that I’m not no queer”.
“Me neither” replied Jack. “A one-shot thing”.
There is an entire society within their minds. A mannish, patriarchal, homophobic society, which “treats” poofs accordingly by smashing their faces.
The characters of the book have no intention of going against this homophobic society, since they are also a part of it.
Once they part from each other, they get married with women, they have children, they work, to prove that they are men and not poofs.
They live half a life, feeling it in their bones that they will experience nothing of the sort ever again, as this summer in Brokeback Mountain.
They pretend that they are satisfied with what they’ve got, they play as good as they can the Imitation Game, but at nighttime when they are doing their duty, as men, with their drab wives, they smoke staring at the ceiling sighing “Oh, son of a bitch”.
Four years later their paths intersect again. They take up going for “fishing”, like men are supposed to do, but the fishing kits never leave the creel case.
They are having sex and they are trying to catch up in a few days with all they denied, because they are cowboys.
Proulx writes in a way as if she empathizes with their manly toughness.
She describes but one idyllic scene; Ennis remembering coming up behind Jack and pulling him close in front of the fire, one night at Brokeback Mountain.
But even then Ennis didn’t want to embrace Jack face to face, he doesn’t want to see who is in his arms because, we’ve told that before, they are cowboys, not poofs.
The main thrust of the book is this very conflict between the Superego (the roles that the two characters have embraced since they were born) and the Id (the deeper desires).
Poor Ego wavers between these two but finally puts on the cowboy hat and gets the blues.
The story is bookended with Jack’s death by accident. Proulx ( in a sole phrase) implies that Jack’s death wasn’t an accident but the revenge of the mannish society which smashed his head with a tool used by men only, the tire iron.
So Ennis stays alone, divorced with his wife, wandering in the inland of the USA, well aware that he lost his life because he was born a cowboy.
This short story won an O.Henry award prize.
If you read it, it becomes clear why literature is so necessary. Because a man with a pen and a paper, can get across a lot more than a hundred movies or surveys or philosophical texts.
Proulx depicted superbly a matter that is not confined to cowboys.
Every man was born in a Matrix which is not created by the Machine, but the humans instead.
They were born bourgeois, Greek, Christian, heterosexual, in debt, ready to become a part of the Matrix.
When they grow up, perhaps they will grasp that the only choice they have boils down to what type of condom they will get: Ribbed or flavored.
If they understand what is going on, where they are, there are two choices.
The first one is to take the blue pill and not think about it, put on their hat and keep on dancing on the rear legs, like a dog in a circus.
Occasionally their body will resist, expressing its dislike with neuroses, stress, phobias and depression.
Then another blue pill is in order, to keep watching TV without crying.
The second one is to oppose to the Matrix, to the Roles reserved for them.
Then, someone will be willing to smash their head with a tire iron or crucify them in pride of place, visible to everyone and make them feel happy for choosing to choose nothing.
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Translated by Alexandros Mantas https://www.facebook.com/residuos.mentales/
Since we’re not native speakers, feel free to suggest improvements and make corrections
The picture is a detail from Robert Frank’s photograph Rodeo- New York City, from his emblematic for the street photography “The Americans”