Book 47: Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx
A melange of memoir, family history, western lore and nature writing, Bird Cloud by Annie Proulx is a mildly diverting work of non-fiction that, even at its best, never approaches the brilliance of her most notable fiction.
At its heart, and recalling nothing so much as Tracy Kidder's 1985 House, is an account of Proulx's efforts to build her dream house on a Wyoming clifftop. Few human undertakings as fraught with frustration and drama as having a new house built. All the more true when the new house is located on Wyoming cliff that is scoured by unceasing wind and beset by harsh winters that grip the land for much of the year.
Bird Cloud, which is what Proulx calls her 640 acres of raw Wyoming land, has moments when it is both interesting and entertaining. For me, Proulx's account of the construction of the house -- the battles between the architect and the builders over design and what really works, the rising costs and the ultimate realization that she can't inhabit the house during the worst of Wyoming's winter months are the best parts of the book.
Unfortunately, Proulx fills the relatively small book (slightly more than 200 pages) with such an assortment of material that it leaves the reader constantly unsettled. Become enthralled with the challenges of building the house and you are suddenly immersed in observing the wildlife that populate Bird Cloud. Become intrigued by that and you're off again on some new tangent that, inevitably, is more interest to the writer than the reader.
All in all, I would have preferred a series of magazine articles on each of the disparate elements of this book. That would have provided a series of more satisfying reads. It would not, however, have helped offset the increasing cost of Proulx's dream house turned nightmare as the author is clearly hoping this book will do.