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)