Friday, June 06, 2008

The New Yorker: "Tits-up in a Ditch" by Annie Proulx

Let me first point out that we had another Annie Proulx story just four weeks ago. It wasn’t great and neither is this one. But she’s got a new book coming out and so we’re stuck with her. Let me next say that this story should have been cut in half. The first half is nothing by flat stereotyping and everyone behaves exactly as expected according to type. Dakotah’s slutty mother dumps her with the grandparents, who aren’t much interested and are generally resentful of folks who have things. Dakotah doesn’t have much going for her either and so we see where she’s headed: she drops out of school, gets married to a loser, and gets pregnant. Please. Why did I have to read that? If I hadn’t been planning to write this post I would have stopped and read the Nabokov story in this issue.

But it’s a good thing I read on. I’m not saying that the second half rescues the story over all, but at least it got interesting. Sash, Dakotah’s husband, leaves her and joins the Army. Dakotah has her baby and it’s a boy so that at least her grandparents aren’t indifferent (a lesson that Dakotah takes note of). But her road ahead is pretty bleak so she leaves the baby with her grandparents and she also joins the Army. At this point, the old stereotype veers into a new stereotype: lower class, hard luck, poorly educated kids join the Army without any sense of patriotism solely because they have no other options. The Army seems to offer them a way out. And then they get sent to Iraq. They become IED fodder, and their road to the future is filled with even more obstacles. There’s a reason why both the old and new stereotypes exist.

I won’t say more about what happens in this story except that I congratulate Annie Proulx for writing it. I don’t know exactly what her intention was, but in it I see some pretty ugly truths. It’s not an anti-war story, really. It’s more of a magnifying glass that shows us a piece of reality that we’d rather not have to see.

June 9 & 16, 2008: “Tits-up in a Ditch” by Annie Proulx (not online)


Holly said...

I liked Proulx's story from a few weeks ago much more than this one. I've always appreciated the sprawl and ambition of her work, but these new pieces seem especially indulgent, as though editors can't touch her anymore. (And they probably can't.)

Anonymous said...

I stalwartly made it through this story, and I agree with you that the second half was more interesting and the overall feeling for me was that(grim as it was) it was worth reading. Why, I'm not sure. Some people really do have bleak lives, but maybe one has to dig a little deeper to see the love or the breath of life in these characters...and that is what Annie P does. (I don't think I've ever read anything of hers that I liked, but you've got to appreciate the talent none the same).

Anonymous said...

I agree this isn't Proulx's best story. However, I found the first half better made than the second half for the most part--the sound and rhythm of it, the descriptions of the scenes so vivid. But the second half moves faster, and I think that was intentional. It's like rolling a boulder over a cliff--the first half is the boulder, the heft and strain of it, and the second half is the last push off the edge to make it fall with a resounding thud. And the second half moves not only because everything happens quickly but because so much happens relative to what goes on in Wyoming there's no time to sit and stare at the scenery. And also, I suspect Proulx didn't want to focus our attention on the war. We only get the detritus of it. Because of this, I think it is an antiwar piece, actually. Life is bad enough for some folks, Proulx seems to say, why make it worse by sending them off to war? Dakotah's life is so much worse having gone to the Army than it would have been had she tried to eke out a living at home. Although to some extent she was bound toward tragedy, as we see in the taxi ride home, we see at the end she has repeated the cycle of her grandparent's lives, but it is much, much worse this time around.

Anonymous said...

Hi! Is it possible to get the text of Tits-up in a Ditch?
BBC, Dhaka

Clifford Garstang said...

No, sorry, that one isn't available online.

Anonymous said...

This is Annie Proulx favorite story.

Who knows best? What are these other people missing?