Books: On Strange Ground

Hard people, bleak views, dazzling prose--that's Annie Proulx's collection of tales of Western life

Annie Proulx twirls words like a black-hat badman twirling Colts, fires them off for the sheer hell of it, blam, blam, no thought of missing, empty beer cans jump in the dust, misses one, laughs, reloads, blams some more. Something like that.

Words won her the Pulitzer for The Shipping News, no question. The novel itself doesn't really track. The main character is gaumless in the first chapters and a functioning human male at the end, simply because the author has decreed a character transplant. But Proulx's language does not admit "yes, but" or "really?" When it works, which is most...