One-Minute Book Reviews

September 10, 2008

An Excerpt From Philip Hensher’s Review of Annie Proulx’s ‘Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3’

Filed under: Short Stories — 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom @ 1:22 am
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[Note: The just-named finalists for the 2008 Man Booker Prize include The Northern Clemency by the influential English editor and critic Philip Hensher. I haven’t seen the novel, which Knopf will publish in the U.S. early next year. But I have long admired Hensher’s spirited reviews for the Spectator, which are as entertaining as they are erudite. An excerpt from one of the most recent follows my introduction below. Jan]

Annie Proulx’s fiction is an acquired taste that I have not acquired despite several painful attempts at force-feeding that nearly turned me into a literary bulimic. But I enjoyed Philip Hensher’s review of her new Fine Just the Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3 (Scribner, 240 pp., $25) in the Spectator, which included this passage:

“This new collection is pretty clearly divided into stories which don’t work at all and ones which seem to create something marvellously new in most unorthodox ways. When she ventures out of her familiar territory, the results can be fairly awful. I admit to being allergic to all narratives of prehistoric life, and this one is straight out of some terrible creative writing class.

“‘Night after night the thready monotone of [the shaman’s] prayers and invocations had formed the solemn background of the band’s dreaming’

“There are two stories set in hell with the Devil as the hero, apparent attempts at humorous topical satire which I beg Annie Proulx on bended knee not to repeat. And I was quite enjoying one story of frontier life until I realized that it was all about a serial-killer tree. These ventures into magical realism traduce the possibilities of Proulx’s oddness by settling into the conventionally odd — trees which kill, the Devil’s view of life on earth and grunting romances about stone-age communities were all totally old-hat for mildly ambitious pulp writers like Isaac Asimov 40 years ago.”

Read Hensher’s full review at

Read the Man Booker Prize announcement about Hensher and The Northern Clemency at and a lively discussion of the novel on the Asylum blog at

© 2008 Janice Harayda. All rights reserved.


  1. He said: “… all totally old-hat for mildly ambitious pulp writers like Isaac Asimov 40 years ago.”

    Okay, that’s funny!

    Comment by impatientreaderdotcom — September 10, 2008 @ 12:32 pm | Reply

  2. Also old-hat for contemporary historical fiction writers like Jean Auel, who has lots of Cro-Magnon love in books like “Clan of the Cave Bear.” Glad your sense of humor jibes with mine …

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — September 10, 2008 @ 12:49 pm | Reply

  3. She is an acquired taste, that’s for sure. I read The Shipping News and loved it, but it is . . . er . . . different. The same could be said of Cormac McCarthy . . .

    Comment by tysdaddy — September 11, 2008 @ 9:19 am | Reply

  4. More than most authors, Proulx also seems to go way up and down from one book to the next. Did you read the reviews for “Accordion Crimes”? Some of them were just disastrous, even when they came from people who liked “The Shipping News.”

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — September 11, 2008 @ 9:35 am | Reply

  5. Hensher I think has a point here, and makes it in an amusing way as usual (though he really could tone down his venom a touch, as usual, particularly as he’s no great novelist himself). Patricia Highsmith, a terrific writer within her usual form (suspense fiction), did something similar in Tales of Natural and Unnatural Catastrophes, where she brought in all sorts of supernatural stuff which was just laughable. Or, more accurately, tragic.

    Comment by John Self — September 13, 2008 @ 8:40 am | Reply

  6. Thanks for mentioning Highsmith, John. I very much admire some of her suspense novels, which are less appreciated in the U.S. than in Europe (except perhaps for the Ripley books), and hope to write about them on this blog.

    Comment by 1minutebookreviewswordpresscom — September 13, 2008 @ 8:21 pm | Reply

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