September 23, 2022 By Vaseline

Ace holds the winning hand

I’m Pat Tyrer from Canyon, Texas for the High Plains Public Radio Reader’s Book Club Fall 2022 Reading. our september book, The old ace in the hole by Annie Proulx is a beautiful exploration of the climate, land and people of the Texas Panhandle. The novel’s plot is thin, which doesn’t mean bad or irrelevant, but the story is more of a wandering around the Panhandle, observing the land and climate, and learning about the different types of people who live and thrive on this arid and windier place Section of the southern prairie where water is scarce and wind inevitable.

The central character is a na├»ve but decent young man named Bob Dollar, who struggles to find his way and ends up being hired by the Global Pork Rind Corporation to find land for a pig farm. I’m originally from Iowa and there isn’t much good you can convince me of company pig farms that would replace my olfactory experience of driving past them on a hot and humid summer’s day. Of course, part of Bob’s job is to keep his plans for the property he’s scouting a secret. Instead, he tells these cautious Texans that he wants to buy real estate for luxury home development. He settles in the small community of Woolybucket and gets a room in a bunkhouse at Busted Star Ranch. Although Woolybucket is a fictional town, Proulx contains enough real locations to uncover the history, landscape, and people of the Panhandle with names like Happy Texas, “the town without a frown,” and Miami, which is locally pronounced “Miama.”

For me, the strongest aspect of the novel is the characters and their stories that are introduced throughout the novel. In “Busted Star,” Rancher LaVon tells the story of her “travelling grandfather,” who eventually settled on the treeless prairie in 1879. Soon after his arrival, he imported trees that had to be watered daily with buckets. Of course, most of them died in all weathers. Then he drove cattle, which died from ticks, black legs and a winter storm. The few that survived the winter drowned in the spring runoff. This was followed by the death of his wife. What took him ten years to build “went from sittin’ pretty to flat in a year.”

The title character, Ace Crouch, feels like the pivot of the story. He explains what he sees when he looks across the prairie and it’s not a pig farm’s future home. With warmth and understanding, Ace Crouch holds the winning hand in this story.

History and the stories of individuals are carefully traversed into the readers as they traverse the Panhandle, both exploring the landscape and explaining its people – their stories, their dreams and their enduring love for this vast, windswept, extraordinary land. I hope this short discussion of The old ace in the hole tempted to look. It is a wonderful description of the climate, the land and the people.

Again, I’m Pat Tyrer from Canyon, Texas in the middle of the Panhandle for the High Plains Public Radio Readers Book Club.