8 Essential Annie Proulx Short Stories

With her new book, Barkskins , coming out on June 14th, now is as good a time as any to celebrate the remarkable author Annie Proulx, best known as the writer of the short story that inspired the movie Brokeback Mountain. Proulx possesses an incredible talent for capturing the spirit of the American West in prose that is both biting and beautiful, magical and dangerous. She has a style all her own — and you will never forget your first leap into her writing. If you haven't read her before, I suggest you begin with one of Annie Proulx's short stories.

While her previous novels — including Postcards and The Shipping News (winner of the 1994 Pulitzer Prize) have experienced their own enormous share of success, Proulx really shines in her short fiction. Though her stories are filled with cowboys and farmhands, these aren't your typical John Wayne Westerns. There are no cowboys running around yipping and yelling and shooting anything that moves. Rather, Proulx's characters are real, down-to-earth people, just trying to make life work for them.

Whether you're new to Proulx's works or you're a long-time fan, here are eight short stories that exemplify Proulx's remarkable writing. Read them to prepare yourself for the release of Barkskins:

1. "Brokeback Mountain"

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This short story has become one of Proulx's most well-known works. But, as it usually goes, watching the movie is nothing like reading the story.

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2. "Them Old Cowboy Songs"

In college, I read this story in conjunction with "Brokeback Mountain." This is the story of a young married couple, Archie and Rose McLaverty, as they begin their life together in early 1800's Wyoming. As you follow the couple's challenges, you'll get sucked into Proulx's characteristic style.

3. "The Half-Skinned Steer"

Upon his brother's death, a man drives from Massachusetts to his childhood home in Wyoming. This story makes use of memories and flashbacks in a beautiful way.

4. "Job History"

The story of Leeland Lee's constant struggle to pin down a job. While this one isn't available online, you can find it Proulx's classic collection, Close Range: Wyoming Stories.

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5. "The Mud Below"

Also from Close Range, this story is about Diamond Felts, who rides bulls on the rodeo circuit against his mother's wishes.

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6. "The Blood Bay"

In this story from Close Range, three cowboys in a blizzard find a frozen body wearing a pair of beautiful, handmade boots.

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7. "Rough Deeds"

This short story is a good one to read before jumping into Barkskins, because it follows Duquet, one of the novel's main characters.

8. "A Resolute Man"

Published in The New Yorker this March, this is one of Proulx's most recently published stories. The story follows James Duke,, a descendant of Duquet and a lawyer, who has come to Boston from the UK.

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