E-readers aside, I can be a bit old-fashioned when it comes to books. You see, I like a plot. It doesn’t matter if it’s tenuous, implausible or just flat out incomprehensible, but heaven save me from a book where nothing happens.
I am sorry to report that Annie Proulx’s Bird Cloud – A memoir is such a book. Ostensibly the story of the building of her dream house on a property called Bird Cloud, the back cover promises history, geology, anthropology and more.
Here’s a summary of what happens in the book. Proulx organises the building of a house. A number of minor issues are overcome. She moves in and spends a large number of pages describing the birds that live on the property. The grand tragic finale? She can’t live on the property in winter because it gets snowed in. I needed a whole box of tissues for that one.
If that sounds a little self-indulgent as the premise for the book, that’s probably correct. Proulx talks more than once about the house going way over budget, and I have the sneaking suspicion that this book was intended to help recoup some of the cost. Or perhaps I am being unfair and the book reflects the fact that dramas such as the polishing of the floor in the wrong colour loomed very large for Proulx. Of course, that doesn’t help a reader much. I am interested in history, geology, and other subjects promised by the back cover and barely touched on by the book. I am not interested in the squabbles between Proulx’s architect and her builder. In this I suspect I am probably not alone.
The book is of course lyrically written, as you would expect from such a renowned writer. This didn’t stop me from skipping large chunks towards the end. I would have skipped to the part where something happened, except that I got to the end and found that part didn’t exist. To make things more frustrating, Proulx drops dark hints in the early chapters about catastrophes to follow – “little-did-I-know” type statements. I can only assume she was referring to what I would characterise as minor mishaps during construction. Either that, or my copy had some important pages missing.
Without Proulx’s name I seriously doubt this book would have been published. As a personal diary of an important time in the writer’s life, it makes sense. As a cottage history of a particular piece of land, it may be interesting to people who live nearby. As a reference source for people thinking of building an architect-designed dream home in the middle of nowhere – well, perhaps not. Unfortunately, I can only recommend this book to the general public if they are in need of a soporific or so post-modern they have no need of plot. As you can see, I don’t fall into either category.