The Half-Skinned Steer by Annie Proulx

For week 35 of Deal Me In 2014, I drew the queen of spades from my short story deck.

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Not one of my favorite stories of this year’s Deal Me In, this story deals with the return “home” (to Wyoming) of an 83-year old man, Mero. The purpose of his journey? To attend his brother Rollo’s funeral. Mero grew up on a ranch which has since been transformed to “The Outback in Wyoming” featuring animals from Australia including, unfortunately for Mero’s deceased brother, Emus.

Mero’s trek across the country (in his Cadillac!) presents much opportunity for retrospection and self-examination for a man nearing the end of life. By the time he reaches Wyoming, he’s on his second Cadillac (there was a traffic mishap in Iowa) and has encountered a nasty snowstorm. One gets the feeling this might not end well for Mero.

(Below: Illustration from The Atlantic Monthly, where this story was first published)

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Interwoven with the current day story is a flashback to the story of a half-skinned steer, which adds a supernatural element to the tale. If you’ve gotta know the truth, I didn’t quite get the deeper meaning of this story within the story. In my post-reading research I learned that the story of the half-skinned steer is adapted from an Icelandic folktale called “Porgeir’s Bull,” which among its themes includes the concept of revenge of nature against man. This story makes more sense in that light.

Annie Proulx – perhaps now most known for her work, “Brokeback Mountain” – is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and another of her stories (“Heart Song”) was featured in a post by fellow Deal Me In participant Hanne back in January. http://readingoncloud9.wordpress.com/2014/01/11/heart-songs-by-annie-proulx/

This story is available to read online at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1997/11/the-half-skinned-steer/306168/?single_page=true

(Below Annie Proulx in 2009 )

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10 Comments

  1. Paula Cappa said,

    August 30, 2014 at 11:13 am

    Proulx is a terrific writer. I haven’t read her work in a long time. This story sounds very mysterious.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      September 13, 2014 at 7:28 am

      The story’s been “fermenting” in my subconscious the last couple weeks. Enough that I may read it again. I want to research the source story too.

      Like

  2. Dale said,

    August 30, 2014 at 7:00 pm

    Jay,
    This story is on my tentative 2015 list. I’ve wanted to read something by Proulx and found this in one my new anthologies. Even with the less than great review, for some reason, the title intrigues me. For right now, I think I will leave it, but your opinion holds a lot of influence and 2015 is still a little while away. We’ll see!
    -Dale

    Like

    • Jay said,

      September 13, 2014 at 7:30 am

      I think it’s good enough to merit a spot on a DMI list. I’m still thinking about the story, so maybe it just takes a while to sink in.

      Like

  3. Randall said,

    August 30, 2014 at 9:42 pm

    I don’t think I have ever read any Proulx. But I have to admit, for some reason your description of the story made me think of “The Old Man and the Sea.” Don’t know why — probably just the normal level of craziness on my part. 🙂

    Like

    • Jay said,

      September 13, 2014 at 7:34 am

      I’ve actually never read The Old Man and the Sea (I know, I know) so I don’t know why that would be – other than man finding out that nature may be more powerful – and in unknown ways – than he had previously imagined.

      Like

  4. hkatz said,

    September 10, 2014 at 10:11 pm

    Haven’t read this one – but some of Proulx’s other stories are fantastic. “Family Man,” “Them Old Cowboy Songs,” and “Tits-Up in a Ditch” are three I remember and need to write about at some point.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      September 13, 2014 at 7:35 am

      I’ve known of Proulx by reputation for quite awhile but this was my first foray into her writing. There will be others. 🙂

      Like

  5. October 30, 2014 at 9:39 am

    I read this story earlier in the year, and I agree that it wasn’t the easiest to “get”. I didn’t really warm to it.

    Like

    • Jay said,

      October 31, 2014 at 7:24 am

      I actually found my post-reading research on the Porgier’s Bull story more interesting than my reading the story. I may still need to read it again to fully appreciate it.

      Like


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