cover image Bird Cloud

Bird Cloud

Annie Proulx, Scribner, $26 (256p) ISBN 978-0-7432-8880-4

The Pulitzer Prize winner and author of Brokeback Mountain portrays her flawed paradise in the majestic, hardscrabble West in this vibrant memoir. Proulx bought a 640-acre nature preserve by the North Platte River in Wyoming and started building her dream house, a project that took years and went hundreds of thousands of dollars over budget. In her bustling account, Proulx salivates over the prospect of a Japanese soak tub, polished concrete floor, solar panels, and luxe furnishings that often turn into pricey engineering fiascoes. The meticulous master builders she dubs the James Gang are the book's heroes. Though the house never quite lives up to its promise, it does inspire the author's engrossing natural history of the locale. Proulx drives cattle off of the overgrazed terrain; finds stone arrowheads; recounts the lore of the Indians, ranchers, and foppish big-game hunters who contested the land; and documents the antics of the eagles, magpies, mountain lions, and other critters who tolerate her presence. Like her fiction, Proulx's memoir flows from a memorable landscape where "the sagebrush seems nearly black and beaten low by the ceaseless wind"; the result is a fine evocation of place that becomes a meditation on the importance of a home, however harsh and evanescent. (Jan.)