That Old Ace in the Hole
by Annie Proulx

Scribners, 2002. ISBN 0684813076.
Reviewed by Judith Helburn
Posted on 08/17/2005

Fiction: Literary

Those of us who have read The Shipping News know that Annie Proulx is a master at creating odd people who can worm their way into our hearts. She does it again with Bob Dollar, a young man setting off to West Texas to secure both sites for hog factories and for his own self respect. His boss at Global Pork Rind urges him to be circumspect in his inquiries. After all, who would willingly want to live near a huge hog operation?

So The Innocent sets out on his journey from the sanctuary of his uncle's home in Denver to find a small, impoverished town in the Texas Panhandle. He is determined to do well, to learn about the people in the area of the town and to win their trust. In his earnestness, it did not occur to him that securing sites for hog factories and winning trust were in opposition.

Along with learning about Bob's early life with Uncle Tam and his friendship with Orlando, a young thug, we learn about the inhabitants of Cowboy Rose, Wollybucket County, Texas. It is hard not to like unassuming, earnest Bob Dollar. Trusting him is another story for the mostly Christian-and-proud-of-it folks of Cowboy Rose.

During his leisure time on the porch of LaVon Fronk's unimproved [no electricity, no plumbing] bunkhouse, Bob reads Lieutenant James William Alberts' "Expedition," given to him by Uncle Tam's antique/junk shop partner. "Expedition" just happens to take place in West Texas in the mid-nineteenth century. A different journey in a different time.

How could I like a book about a bunch of down and out, bigoted rednecks? Perhaps because of Annie Proulx's wit and lucid descriptions of even the most minor characters. I want to know more about each rancher, each quilting, gossiping woman, their churches, their habits, their history and their celebrations. Proulx writes of real people. People with depth, adventure and misadventure, cruelty, and down-home wisdom.

Annie Proulx writes happy endings, not thunder-crashing dramatic endings, but happy endings. Treat yourself. Read her books. You will grow in empathy at the very least.

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