Saturday, September 29, 2012
'The strength of this collection is Proulx's feeling for place and the shape into which it twists her characters. Wyoming is harsh spaces, unyielding soil, deadly winters, blistering summers and the brute effort of wresting a living out of a land as poor as it is beautiful. Its natives -- as distinct from prosperous newcomers -- are battered like cannonballs shot from a cannon, as dangerous upon impact and, essentially, as helpless. Character is not fate. Fate is character and landscape is fate. One young man gives up college and goes back to ranch work when his decrepit truck dies and there is no way to cover the distance.
This is splendid material, set out with pain and compassion but above all with a shrewdness of observation that brings the harsh upland life to us in the traditional way that stories are brought: a stranger comes to the door and tells us of a place we do not know. The comfortable America of a rising stock market and a falling awareness of whatever lives outside its concerns cannot even conceive of it. Proulx knows what she could only know not just by living in Wyoming but by the infrared that allows a very few writers clear sight in the dark of the imagination.'
'I had been thinking about such a novel for at least 15 years, and it had changed a great deal in my head during that time. Unlike anything else I have written, it began with the title. I was sitting in the old round reading room in the British Museum, watching the great Coleridge scholar Kathleen Coburn pacing round and round the circular catalogue, and I realised that she had dedicated all her life to this dead man. And then I thought "Does he possess her, or does she possess him?" And then I thought there could be a novel, "Possession", about the relations between the living and the dead. It would be a kind of daemonic tale of haunting.
I then realised that there was a blunt economic sense to the word. Who "possesses" the manuscripts of dead writers? I turned this over in my mind, and quite a long time later I realised that "possession" also applied to sexual relationships. At that time I was working on the wonderful letters of Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and I had the idea of two pairs of lovers, one modern, one high Victorian, possessing each other in all these senses.
My original plan had been to write a kind of experimental novel, a ghostly palimpsest of literary, theoretical and intrusively biographical texts, behind which the lovers and poets could be glimpsed, but not seen clearly. What changed everything was my reading of Umberto Eco's The Name of the Rose, with its parodic medieval detective story. My husband's friends in the City were all engrossed in this book, and interested in all the medieval theology it contained. The secret, I saw, was that if you tell a strong story, you can include anything else you need to include. So I started inventing a detective story like those I read in my childhood.'