Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bird Cloud: A Memoir by Annie Proulx

Memoirs revolving around house construction are many. Anthony Shadid told about restoring his great grandfather's house in Marjayoun, Lebanon in House of Stone: A Memoir of Home, Family, and a Lost Middle East. Similarly, Tahir Shah recounted how in Casablanca he turned a ruin into a family home in The Caliph's House. Novelist Annie Proulx describes new construction in rural Wyoming in Bird Cloud: A Memoir.

While Proulx's book will seem less exotic than either of the other books, many of the same themes run through her account. Choosing trusted contractors, buying hard to find materials, and dealing with delays and budgets. All of the authors deal with disappointments and have to make compromises to get their houses built. And what they want is more than a house, as each seems to be dealing with the past, present, and the future.

As a reader, I found Proulx a bit contradictory, as we all are. She says that architects often want unpractical features just for the look. She claims to have more modest wants, but when she is unhappy with a cement floor, she pays a second floor man twice as much to fix the problem. When the floor is still not to her liking, she finds rare tile to cover it. No wonder the house takes so long to build. Still, having dealt with a few house repairs myself, I know the feeling of wanting things right.

After Proulx gets her house built, she turns to the land, a section of prairie and wetland below cliffs along the North Platte River that she seeks to protect for wildlife. The constant wind and severe winters prove too much for year round living, but she makes a necessary compromise. Her wonderful nature descriptions throughout remind readers why she makes the great effort to build.

Proulx, Annie. Bird Cloud: A Memoir. Scribner, 2011. 234p. ISBN 9780743288804.

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