Review: Postcards, by Annie Proulx

In 1944, Loyal Blood abruptly leaves his family’s farm in Vermont, under circumstances that are only vaguely described.  He heads west, working a variety of jobs: mining, archaeology, trapping, farming, and so on.  His parents Mink and Jewell continue working the farm with help from Loyal’s brother, Dub.  Life is grim.  Dub’s employment options are limited since he lost his arm in an accident.  Loyal and Dub’s teenage sister, Mernelle, longs for the day she can escape.  And Loyal’s self-imposed exile is no better.

Postcards is a portrait of a family, of farming, and of the American west in the mid-twentieth century.  Each of the Blood family members finds their path, but it’s not always a happy one. Some chapters were riveting, like when men became trapped in a mine, or when farmers banded together to fight a brush fire that threatened their livestock.  Most chapters open with the image of a postcard:  sometimes it’s a short note from Loyal to his family; at other times the correspondence is between unknown parties, but provides context or related plot details.  It’s an interesting device.

But while this book started strong, my interest flagged in the last 100 pages or so.  The events precipitating Loyal’s departure were never fully explained, making it difficult for me to understand why he refused to return home or even let his family know his current address.  Loyal’s endless roaming across the country bored me after a while.  Dub, Mernelle, and even Jewell had more interesting stories, which were not as fully developed.

Postcards was Annie Proulx’s debut novel; there are glimpses of the talent that later brought us The Shipping News, but a few flaws as well.

9 thoughts on “Review: Postcards, by Annie Proulx

  1. The postcards at the beginning of each chapter sound like an interesting device. I don’t feel like rushing out to read this, but then I haven’t read anything else by Annie Proulx so I might want to start with her other works first?

  2. This is one of Proulx’s novels I have yet to read…it sounds like she had a really great premise, but her failure to fully develop key characters really left the novel flat. I loved The Shipping News.

    • I don’t know Wendy, I think the characters were pretty well developed actually. I’ve been thinking about this a lot and may re-work my review a bit to say more about the good parts. It won’t change my rating, and I did get bored with Loyal’s “saga,” but it’s perhaps not as bad as my review makes it sound.

  3. I could tell you what I think happened, but would it be a spoiler?

    I agree, this isn’t her best work, but her writing is so stark, dusty and evocative that I enjoyed reading it despite the hopelessness and grim resignation.

  4. I think hints of what happened throughout the novel make the event on page one fairly clear, and isn’t dragging out Loyal’s journey a kind of literary device to reflect his futile wandering and to show the reader his absolute lack of destination? His journey is only really shaped by Billy’s idea of going west, therefore bringing him back to Billy and making his journey (an effort to run away from the past and himself) completely pointless.

  5. This novel still haunts me. Billy was a restless, lonely soul who did not seem to know what he was searching for or running away from. It made me think of all the walking wounded among us who live their whole lives without really being touched, physically or emotionally while those around them are unaware of the stark loneliness they are experiencing. or incapable of doing anything about it.

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