I once spent the night in a very small Wyoming town at the base of the Big Horn Mountains called Ten Sleep (pop 311). At the local diner I asked the young waitress about social life in Ten Sleep. ‘It’s okay,’ she said, ‘if you’re in with the right crowd.’ Annie Proulx highlights this kind of irony in her third collection of short stories about the hardships of Wyoming life from 1885 to the present. Her epigraph comes from John Clay’s 1924 memoir of cattle-ranching and sheepherding in Wyoming, My Life on the Range: ‘On the surface, everything was lovely, but when you got into the inside circle you soon found out that the lines of demarcation were plainly marked.’ Demarcations and divisions of gender and class in the paradise of the West are the great themes of this book, summed up in its centrally placed story, ‘The Great Divide’, set between 1920 and the 1940s. South Pass, Wyoming was the site of the ‘Great Divide’, where four great pioneer trails crossed the Rockies over the Continental Divide; but for Proulx, it is also a potent metaphor of the ‘the great divide that separated men’s and women’s knowledge of sexual matters’.
Proulx has made her literary reputation as a maverick woman writer who focuses on men’s lives and fantasies. The oldest of five sisters, married three times, and a mother of four, Proulx has said about herself as a young woman, ‘I liked the things that men did. If you live