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REVIEWING

Bird Cloud

by Annie Proulx


2010 | 256 pages | $26.00

Reviewed by Jill Noel Shreve



annie proulx

“…I saw to the west, in the direction of the distant property, one cloud in the shape of an immense bird, the head and beak, the breast looming over the Rockies. I took it as a sign that I would get the property and thought Bird Cloud should be the new name for the old sheep ranch,” wrote Annie Proulx in her most recent memoir, Bird Cloud. After more than a decade of living in a house on a property that didn’t agree with her, Proulx decided to set out on a hunt for a new piece of property—one she could build her dream house on. And that’s when a friend suggested the 640-acre piece of land near Saratoga, Wyoming, owned by The Nature Conservancy, the land that Proulx would come to name Bird Cloud.

Proulx’s memoir spans over a seven year period, from 2003 to 2010. She focuses on the undertaking of building the home she’s always imagined, one that would allow her space to breathe, to feel at ease, and to write. Early on in the story, Proulx acquires the piece of land, and purchasing it from The Nature Conservancy causes little struggle or infraction in Proulx’s life compared to the battles she faces actually getting her house built.

Via an architect, a building crew, a concrete expert, water consultants, a furniture designer, plumbing and wiring diagrams, Polygal windows, a plank bridge, shiny copper panels and a myriad of other things and people, Proulx works toward this vision of a homestead. While maneuvering through the feat of building her own home, she and the crew encounter many obstacles—cow herds roaming on to the property, snow storms with hundred-mile per hour winds, inexperienced foremen feigning expertise, health ailments, and the list goes on.

 This is the pull of the narrative, leaving the reader asking, “Will Annie get her house built?”

But the story is more than that. Proulx employs memoir techniques alongside the overarching plot line, and the way in which she uses these techniques underscores the significance of this story for the reader. Her primary and most successful technique is association. Throughout the entire narrative, in addition to Proulx’s description of purchasing the land and her overseeing of the house construction, we also get anecdotes, memories and research. She opens the door to her Franco-American heritage, allowing her readers a look inside. She writes about familial relationships, between her mother and her sister. She writes about the history of land acquisition in the Midwest. She delineates decades of home architecture and exposes freakish Wyoming weather patterns. She uses this associational technique to give her audience a rich, textured piece of her life rather than a simple recounting of events.

And, in the midst of these associations, the reader understands the story’s significance: people come from somewhere and then those same people live somewhere and interact with the environment around them, which in turn, creates more history.

Because of this message, and the vivid imagery drawn by Proulx’s language, I recommend this memoir. Bird Cloud will leave you with a greater sense of Proulx’s life, but more than that, it leaves you with a burning desire to know where you came from and what you want out of life. Proulx will take you on a journey in Bird Cloud.

Jill Noel Shreve teaches Creative Writing at Hunter College in New York City. You can read more about her at www.jillnoelshreve.com.



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