About a third of the way into Annie Proulx's (the 'E' has gone, like so many of her characters, off over the horizon someplace) mesmerising collection of stories, eyebrows raised in the wake of some horrific tragedy or other, I started keeping a note of the variety of violent or otherwise ghastly deaths to be found. The list ran down to the foot of the page: a rancher drowned in his own blood; an end-of-tether multiple shooting; a woman catapulted from her horse as she tries to lasso a venturesome wolf. And, oddly enough, this is only the 'A' list, ignoring the riot of incidental cancers, car accidents and mysterious sign-offs, such as that of the brother of one protagonist, who 'died in some terrible and private way in the bathroom where their mother found him'. If you emerge from Close Range with a single impression of the North American flatlands, it is that the air must be permanently filled with the sound of wailing sirens.
To make fun of these obsessions – and they are obsessions – is not quite the cheap shot it seems, for one has the feeling that Proulx, albeit in a slightly oblique way, occasionally makes fun of them herself. A clue to this undertow of irony, perhaps, comes in the