Scribner, $9.95, ISBN 978-0-7432-7132-9
Contemporary Fiction, 2005 (Reissue)
This review was written in 2005.
In 1924 the state of Virginia enacted a statute entitled An Act to Preserve Racial Integrity. The statute proclaimed no white person could marry anyone other than a white person. The law made it a punishable crime not only to enter into an interracial marriage in the State of Virginia, but it also criminalized interracial marriages conducted outside the state with the intent of evading Virginia’s prohibition. In addition the law stated that children born out of an interracial marriage were deemed in the eyes of the State of Virginia to be illegitimate and without the protections and privileges accorded to the children of lawfully wedded parents. The law remained on the books till 1967.
A state judge at the time said “Almighty God created the races of White, Black, Yellow, Malay, and Red, and He placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with His arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that He separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.”
Pulitzer Prize winner Annie Proulx author of The Shipping News wrote a short story collection entitled Close Range: Wyoming Stories in 2000. The last and best story IMHO of the book was Brokeback Mountain, which was made into a film by director Ang Lee which explains why you see it here published on it’s own.
Brokeback Mountain takes place in Wyoming in the year 1963 (which just so happens to be the year I was born). The main characters we meet are Jack Twist and Ennis del Mar, two ranch hands barely in their twenties. Jack and Ennis meet the first time while taking a job herding sheep for the summer and fall into a relationship that neither of them can accept. This story though short, richly describes a thoroughly believable relationship between two rough, high school dropouts raised to not only quickly deny their love for each other but also to fear the reprimand of the world they struggle to survive in should they give into it.
After that first summer the story quickly shoots forward another four years or so to let us see their continuing struggles with this “thing” between them, their once a year “fishing trips”, and the inevitable heartbreak that will come to their lives. Inevitable because they do not leave Wyoming to seek some place more tolerant of gay people living their lives openly or just wanting to live together.
“I doubt there’s nothin now we can do,” said Ennis. “What I’m sayin, Jack, I built a life up in them years. Love my little girls. Alma? It ain’t her fault. You got your baby and wife, that place in Texas. You and me can’t hardly be decent together if what happened back there” — he jerked his head in the direction of the apartment — “grabs on us like that. We do that in the wrong place we’ll be dead. There’s no reins on this one. It scares the piss out a me.”
I had read Annie Proulx before but I was totally bowled over with this story. Not only are the stories characters believable in their dealing with their unexpected attraction and sexuality among themselves but also with the denial and the way they deal with women in their lives.
Jack is almost, but not quite, willing to try to acknowledge their love and carve out a place for just the two of them, but Ennis just can’t seem to erase the memories of violence he has seen done to other openly gay ranchers. Truly heart breaking stuff here and be prepared with enough Kleenex to handle the ending, it is gonna hurt. So much of this short story resonates authenticity. This story presents a tragic and cautionary tale showing two men overwhelmed by that same hate and prejudice and denial which will ultimately destroy not only their lives and their dreams but also themselves.
In 1998 21 year old Matthew Shepard died, pistol-whipped, beaten, and tied to a fence to lie through a long, cold Wyoming night. The blood on Shepard’s face had been partially washed away by tears, indicating that he had been conscious, for some time, after the beating. He had been pistol-whipped 18 times with a .357-caliber Magnum because he was gay.
In 2004 Oregon, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Michigan, Mississippi, Montana, North Dakota, Oklahoma, Ohio and Utah passed bans on gay marriage. While the amendments in Mississippi, Montana and Oregon deal only with marriage, the measures in the other eight states also ban civil unions.
Come on now, everyone knows it is not about red or blue states or trivial sandbox politics among Republicans or Democrats. It is about the ease that religious conservatives find in using insulting and dehumanizing descriptions equating gay marriage with bestiality, pedophilia, incest, and assorted other perversions that have nothing to do with two consenting adults seeking government recognition for their relationship. The rambling diatribes I have read all seem so prepackaged, illogical and almost farcical, if it was not so obviously meant to create fear and hate and sadly violent reactions in people who cannot think for themselves – much like the heated racist arguments used against interracial marriage that are simply crude and shameful and sickening when viewed today.
I might be reviewing fiction here but the issues woven into this short story sure are not, no matter how much I wish they were. It’s a cold, cold wind blowing in this country. Kansas is actually voting to teach the Theology of Creationism in Science class and calling it (get this) “Intelligent Design”. I know, I know, I laugh about it too, but those people are actually justifying the same underlying bigotry and in a similar fashion proudly displaying ignorance like some badge of patriotism in their arguments (well more like rants, arguments use logic), see how willingly they accept and blindly trust the academic scam artists providing them with “facts”, and to top it all off when cornered on how little they actually understand of what they are ranting on about they proclaim how they simply want us all to be “open minded” in what we are teaching. Yeah, sorta like how the Church was “open minded” to Galileo. Next up folks they will be trying to teach the Earth is flat and the Sun is carried by a great big gold chariot in the sky(Just to be open minded). I wonder if moving to Canada might not be such a bad idea.
Oh, you probably should just go and buy the whole dang book Close Range: Wyoming Stories. Brokeback Mountain got a pretty new cover and all that but like a bag of chips you can’t read just one. Annie should have made this one an expanded novel since there are so few people gay or straight that seem to be willing and able to write dead on voice and viewpoint without dipping into Harlequin Romance territory.