Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx and read by Joan Allen comes very close to being all things to all people. A memoir on a grand scale, Bird Cloud not only serves as a cautionary tale for any who wish to buy and build on Wyoming ranchland, but the book is a partial history of the American West and an environmental love song for the precious flora and fauna of open lands.
Bird Cloud begins with Proulx reading the first autobiographical chapter about her peripatetic childhood and family’s genealogical history. The chapter sets the stage for the author’s intense need to ground herself, finally, in a home that is perfect for her.
Joan Allen’s expressive reading captures the author’s increasing frustration with the building process. Not meaning to make light of the misfortunes of others, it is hard not to laugh as Allen characterizes Proulx’s unrestrained horror when first gazing upon a much-anticipated polished concrete floor. The “what next?” exasperation eventually felt by every homeowner cleverly seeps into Allen’s words and phrasings. Nonetheless, even the beleaguered home builder/author sees the humor in the multiple work shut-downs as all hands are called upon to shoo errant livestock from the construction area.
The foibles of construction take a back seat to the author’s obvious love for Wyoming. Grasses, wildflowers, rocks, and mammals of both land and air are meticulously noted, examined, and then treated to the author’s lyrical prose. Poetic descriptions of the dalliance of resident bald eagles bring the author’s observations into clear view for the enthralled listener.
Bird Cloud Allen assures all those enjoying the audiobook that home construction is not for the faint of heart. The experience has served a worthwhile purpose, though, if it has allowed a gifted author like Annie Proulx an inspiriting window through which to share her obvious love and respect for wide, open spaces. Carole Chouinard
“Bird Cloud” is the name Annie Proulx gave to 640 acres of Wyoming wetlands and prairie and 400-foot cliffs plunging down to the North Platte River. On the day she first visited, a cloud in the shape of a bird hung in the evening sky. Proulx also saw pelicans, bald eagles, golden eagles, great blue herons, ravens, scores of bluebirds, harriers, kestrels, elk, deer and a dozen antelope. She fell in love with the land, then owned by the Nature Conservancy, and she knew what she wanted to build on it—a house in harmony with her work, her appetites and her character, a library surrounded by bedrooms and a kitchen.
Proulx’s first work of nonfiction in more than twenty years, Bird Cloud is the story of designing and constructing that house—with its solar panels, Japanese soak tub, concrete floor and elk horn handles on kitchen cabinets. It is also an enthralling natural history and archaeology of the region—inhabited for millennia by Ute, Arapaho and Shoshone Indians— and a family history, going back to 19th-century Mississippi riverboat captains and Canadian settlers.
Proulx, a writer with extraordinary powers of observation and compassion, here turns her lens on herself. We understand how she came to be living in a house surrounded by wilderness, with shelves for thousands of books and long worktables on which to heap manuscripts, research materials and maps, and how she came to be one of the great American writers of her time. Bird Cloud is magnificent.
©2011 Simon & Schuster (P)2011 Dead Line, Ltd
“Proulx [is] the laureate of the Wyoming outback and the Canadian shore… Her depictions of the Wyoming landscape in all its moods are in keeping with the best of the Western nature-writing tradition, full of celebration and evocation.” (Kirkus)
“With a scientist’s exactitude, an artist’s attunement to beauty, and a storyteller’s enchantment, Proulx takes us through the building of a home, intimacy with place, and reclamation of the past.” (Donna Seaman, Booklist)
OK... I've also built a house, so I am familiar with the ins and outs... and so is Annie it seems. But for those of you who are looking for the Proulx twists and turns... the subtle and the grand stories weaving through fabulous characterizations and ironic plots, you will be disappointed. There is no mystery or mastery, only a house being built where it should not be by a tough and whimsical woman.
This book is a mix of several genres: autobiography, historian, house builder. I enjoyed picking up little tidbits of her life but if you were expecting a start-middle-end, this is not for you.
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