On the inside of this book, the title is accompanied by the words ‘a memoir’. Unless I’m completely wrong about the meaning of the word ‘memoir’ I think that that is somewhat of a misnomer.
Bird Cloud is a collection of essays loosely connected by themes of home. Annie Proulx gives a recounting of her own place on earth via her genealogy. That section was just skimmed over with not much detail. She relayed what information she had, but that was given to her by someone she hired to track it down. She didn’t do her own research. If she had and then described that discovery process in an essay I would have found it more absorbing – as it was I thought that particular essay only mildly interesting. Another essay recounts the many birds that populate her area of Bird Cloud and how she came to know them. She mentions that she isn’t a ‘list-maker’ and does not make note of every bird that crosses her path. And that’s fine – but (and perhaps I’m being too sensitive here) I disliked the sense that there’s something wrong with making a ‘I’ve seen this bird’ list.
This book is also about history and how Bird Cloud (the 640 acres where Annie Proulx built her house) itself came to be in the author’s hands. She writes about its early history and more recent events concerning overgrazing. I would have enjoyed seeing photos of the areas she described and this is where I think the book is missing most. There are small, hand-drawn pictures and diagrams at the beginning of the chapters but real photos of the area and perhaps the people she spent the most time talking about would have been an added bonus.
What I liked was the description of buying the land and building on it. The people she described, the weather, the impassable roads – all was well done. Having gone through a building process myself, I could easily relate to the big and small hiccups. Her foray with friends onto the land to look for historical remnants of previous inhabitants was also quite interesting. There’s nothing better than a fossil hunt!
What I most liked most of all about this book was the author’s writing. She has a way with words and knows how to put them together and that, above all else, is what kept me reading. This woman can write! While I don’t think this book is what I expected it to be I will read another Annie Proulx book (this was my first) simply for the joy of reading great prose.