Sunday, June 8, 2008

Them Old Cowboy Songs

So I was driving home one day and tuned to the local public radio station. It was a reading of some story, but I really didn't like the voice talent but I lingered a little longer.

It turned out to be a stunning short story titled Them Old Cowboy Songs by Annie Proulx. I had no idea who Annie Proulx was until I got home searching for more info on the story. Turns out she was the author of another short story, Brokeback Mountain. I neither read that nor saw the movie, so I can't comment on it.

Them Old Cowboy Songs is a short story that ran in the May 5th, 2008 New Yorker magazine.

The story is set in 1885 and like most (or all?) of Annie Proulx' stories, in Wyoming. A young man named Archie marries a young woman named Rose. They set up a homestead out in the prairie. Archie goes out in search of ranch-hand work leaving Rose at home pregnant.

Here's the spoiler: Rose has a difficult premature labor, the baby dies and she dies alone in the little house in the prairie. No one finds out until the next spring. Archie, while working on a ranch, also dies in a blizzard. And being a nobody cowpoke, no one really takes note.

That's it. It's a story of two people, about to make a start in the world... they die, and no one cares... and the world goes on.

It's horrifying because it makes one look at the truly insignificant nature of our lives. We are truly of almost no value in the grand scheme of things. The only value is to us and those close to us. How depressing.

Despite the depressing nature of the story, I was moved by how effective the short story was, how it perfectly captured these two people, how it made the reader sympathize with them, yet how it cast no negative light on the 'way things are.' I did not mourn for either character, but I was compelled to look at myself and my own little life.

A must read.


Tild Dallelie said...

I was also just blown away by that story when I read it in the New Yorker back in May.

Now, tonight one of the cable channels is showing Brokeback Mountain and I remembered that was also an Annie Proulx story, and so I just told my husband he should really read 'this absolutely horrifying story' from the New Yorker a couple months ago.

I did a Google search to see if the New Yorker still had the full text up (it doesn't) and that's how I happened to run across your blog post.

Yeah, that was some story, wasn't it?! I don't think I'll ever be able to forget certain passages (altho I'll try).

NotMe said...

If you don't have that New Yorker issue anymore for your hubby to read, I'd be happy to share.

I'm fairly certain the story isn't in any of her short story compilations and was only published in the New Yorker.

angelinjones said...

"Them Old Cowboy Songs", the saddest of these stories, relates the history of Archie and Rose McLaverty, a 16-year-old orphan and his 14-year-old wife who, in 1885, stake out a homestead "where the Little Weed comes rattling down from the Sierra Madre, water named not for miniature and obnoxious flora, but for PH Weed, a gold seeker who had starved near its source".

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