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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