About halfway through Annie Proulxís That Old Ace in the Hole, I realized that Annie Proulx has never met a piece of quirk she didnít like. Case in point.
The plot of Proulx's latest novel revolves around Bob Dollar, a young man whose parents abandoned him with his uncle, who runs an antique shop with his strange buddy, where they are apparently building some sort of plastics museum. Bob is working for a company called Global Pork Rind which sends him to the Oklahoma and Texas panhandles to scout out possible hog farm sites. His voyage sends him to a town called Woolybucket, where Bob meets a bunch of quirky, stubborn, salt-of-the-earth locals with names like LaVon Fronk, Francis Scott Keister, Ace Crouch, Tater Crouch and, my personal favorite, Rope Butt.
These colorful folks frequent watering holes with names Old Dog Cafť and the Busted Star, hold a barbed wire festival, and gol darn it, do they hate hog farms! Of course, Bob has to try and charm the locals into selling out to his company (which he has told them is a real estate developer looking for new sites for luxury homes). Along the way, Bob, of course, becomes enamored with this quaint little burg.
And on and on it goes, until you wonder if thereís a reason why Proulx canít just name one of her characters something like Jane Johnson or Bob Smith. However, though the book is a tad too self-consciously quirky, it is oddly absorbing and even charming. Bob Dollar is a likable character and his relative normalcy is great counterpoint to the rest of the goings-on. But I admit that I even liked some of the oddballs scattered throughout the book, including Cy Prease, the proprietor of the Old Dog, who disguises his sometimes gourmet offerings with pedestrian names or descriptions to avoid putting off his rough-and-tumble cowboy clientele. I even liked the running plot thread about Bobís uncle and his obsession with certain kinds of plastic.
All in all, Proulxís work is fun and entertaining, if a little rambling. Donít expect to win the accolades bestowed upon her The Shipping News, but itís a fine read nonetheless.