The Blood Bay – Annie Proulx, page 99-104.
Proulx sets The Blood Bay within a very typified view of the Western, the 3 cowpunchers riding horseback through the plains. Proulx also sets her fiction within the non-fiction of the 1886-87 winter which she opened The Blood Bay with, it read “The Winter of 1886-87 was terrible. Every goddamn history of the high plains says so.” The use of fact here allows her to present her fiction as a form of revisionist history, revising how we view the mythology of the west.
The Blood Bay has 5 male characters, one of which dies straight off the bat and the other four are far from your ‘hero’ figure that we know and love from the west. One of the cowpunchers even cuts off and thaws out the dead man’s feet just to steal his boots. Proulx doesn’t present him as a criminal though, she justifies his actions by presenting it as almost a necessity that he acquires the boots.
As the story progresses the 3 cowpunchers end up spending the night at a shack owned and lived in by Old Man Grice, who cooks them food, gives them a place to sleep as well as playing cards with them and taking their money from it. Proulx has omitted from this story the mythology of the eastern wife whom should be cooking, cleaning and making up beds for the cowpunchers, instead she decides to have the old man do it which is possibly a more realistic revision of the mythology and history.
In the morning one of the men is missing and all that is left is a pair of thawed out feet and old boots, Old Man Grice believed that his horse referred to as ‘The Blood Bay’ had eaten one of the cowpunchers, he then proceeds to bribe the remaining two cowpunchers to not mention it, giving them 40 gold dollars and the three and four bits he had taken off them in the card game last night. So even though Old Man Grice has been separated from the classic gender role in the western he is still portrayed as an anti-heroic character.
Finally The Blood Bay wraps up with the two remaining cowpunchers leaving the shack and returning to the bunkhouse, here they find the other cowpuncher alive, he had travelled out early to send a telegraph for his mother’s birthday, Proulx wrote “When they saw Sheets that night at the bunkhouse they nodded, congratulated him on his mother’s birthday but said nothing about blood bays or fouty-three dollars and four bits. The arithmetic stood comfortable.” So even here, the two men who appeared threatening towards Old Man Grice it would appear as if they knew he was alive and scammed Old Man Grice out of money, yet again an anti-hero.
So here Proulx took 5 men, changed gender roles, made one man stupid enough to die, another into a thief, one more into someone trying to cover up a death and two more into scammers. And we are left with no great Western hero at the end of it. It is clear to see the Proulx is presenting a revisionist interpretation of western mythology and does it ever so effectively.
1. Proulx A, Proulx A. The Blood Bay. Close Range. New York, NY: Scribner; 1999.