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That Old Ace in the Hole: A Novel
by Annie Proulx
ISBN 0743241479 / 9780743241472 / 0-7432-4147-9
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Bob Dollar is a reluctant land swindler. When the 25-year-old protagonist in Annie Proulx's That Old Ace in the Hole signs on as a location scout for Global Pork Rind, an industrial hog farming corporation, he has no idea what kind of moral quandaries he's in for. Well, maybe he does. His assignment, after all, is to infiltrate a tiny town in the Texas Panhandle and find a tract of land his employer can turn into an industrial hog farm. Bob tells the locals he's scouting for luxury home developers ("They feel there is potential here"), but as a cover story it's less than clever. Only a fool would build mansions in the godforsaken Panhandle country, a place of light soil, bad wind, killing drought, and end-of-world thunder. "To live here," one Panhandler tells Bob, "it sure helps if you are half cow and half mesquite and all crazy." The narrative follows Bob's hapless quest to ink a deal, but Proulx's mission is bigger than that. She's out to tell the story of the Panhandle itself, to write an entirely new literary territory into existence. With the help of a menagerie of eccentric characters set down in "the most complicated part of North America," Proulx succeeds admirably. --Claire Dederer [via]