Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx
Fourth Estate $34.99
There are memoirs that are about a personal life lived, and then there are memoirs about a specific subject on which an author wishes to ruminate at length. Annie Proulx's non-fiction Bird Cloud very much falls into the latter category. She reveals little more of herself in this new book, her first non-fiction in 20 years, than what her readers already know, primarily that she has an enormous commitment on every level to the natural world.
There are odd tantalising glimpses of her personal life: her terrible teeth; the occasional use of the word 'we'; sealed boxes of draft manuscripts, and a collection of books big enough for her to spend months shelving it, but what Proulx really wants is for the reader to see what she sees during the protracted process of building her dream house on her Wyoming property Bird Cloud. And how well she does this in terms of the land, the wildlife and the tempestuous weather of the Wyoming hinterlands. However the house itself, for me at least, written about for at least half of the book, was less easy to visualise. I mean, this is a house built on a grand scale and written about at length. Google helped of course, but I was a little under-whelmed with the sole image I found, which may or may not have been the house.
This is a small quibble because, unsurprisingly, Bird Cloud is a wonderful book. Proulx is so good at what she does that even concrete laying and utility room dimensions are compulsive reading, and that's no mean feat.
The book is arranged on three threads: the finding of the property and the building of the house; the land and the wild life - which is woven throughout the narrative; and the history, both Indian and European, of the area.
The passion she has for her subject matter is obvious, and it's clear that an enormous amount of research went into Bird Cloud's writing. She even remains passionate, for the duration of the book at least, about the house itself, which must have cost a frightening amount of money, and is so remote and battered by the weather that Proulx can only live there for eight or so months of the year. I say for the duration of the book, because the image I found of the house was on a real estate agency site and I wondered if the love affair was over.
* Kelly Ana Morey is an award-winning author whose most recent book Quinine is published by Huia Publishers.