A Month of Short Stories 2014, Day 25 – The Half-Skinned Steer

A year ago, for the month of June, I wrote about an online short story each day for the month. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.

Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.

Today’s story, for day twenty five – The Half-Skinned Steer, by E. Annie Proulx

Read it online here:

The Half-Skinned Steer

I know Annie Proulx from The Shipping News – that wonderful novel about icy cold and family history. I knew that she wrote about the West, though. I knew that she wrote about Wyoming. Once I had a book of her stories – Close Range… I think it was, checked out but never was able to crack the cover.

So I was happy to find The Half-Skinned Steer online and an excuse to take the time to read it. It’s the lead story in the Close Range collection (which includes the better known Brokeback Mountain).

The Half-Skinned Steer is a story smeared across a long swath of time that winds around a timeless country. It is an illustration that you can take the boy off the ranch (a life so isolated and strange that the young man’s introduction to the mysteries of sex are from finding anatomically symbolic rock paintings done by ancient natives) but even after eighty years and a life riding an exercise bicycle in Massachusetts – you can’t take the ranch out of the boy.

It’s a rough, horrific story – about a rough and horrific life on a rough and beautiful land. But it’s told in language so languid and exacting that the snow, blood, and rock jump right off the page.

Pretty good stuff.

He dreamed that he was in the ranch house but all the furniture had been removed from the rooms and in the yard troops in dirty white uniforms fought. The concussive reports of huge guns were breaking the window glass and forcing the floorboards apart, so that he had to walk on the joists. Below the disintegrating floors he saw galvanized tubs filled with dark, coagulated fluid.