This was the second book that I have read for the Walthamstow Library Reading Group, and not one that I would have picked up to read myself. I have heard of The Shipping News, but had no idea what it was about, and indeed, have never heard of Annie Proulx, so definitely not read any of her offerings.
I’m really glad that I read this though and would be tempted to read The Shipping News as the reviews that I’ve read place it way better than this story.
That Old Ace In The Hole seemed a curious mix of lots going on, but being really sedate and laidback – a bit like the Texas panhandle country that it’s set in.
A young man, Bob Dollar, has got his first job with Global Rind Products, acting as a scout to buy up ranches that would make good locations for hog farms – a business that is hated in the areas that it is placed, so a cover story is needed for him to blend in and fish for information with the locals.
It’s a great story with some very vivid characters and feels pretty timeless – in fact, it took me ages to work out what year the book was actually set in.
There were just a couple of issues that I had with the book. Firstly, some of the speech was written in dialect, but these words were so few and far between that it took a while to work out what ther were going on about (eg: bobwar instead of barbwire). I don’t believe the dialect added to the story, as it was so ‘cowboy-laden’ that I had them all talking like John Wayne in my head anyway.
There was also the fact that so many stories were told be characters in the book, that it actually started to feel like the whole thing was just a vehicle to bring together a collection of short stories that she had jotted down!
That feeling might have added to the way that I felt the book was finished – about 15 pages from the end, I was getting confused as too how the story would finish, as nothing was presenting itself as an obvious conclusion. And then in the last few pages, another twist was introduced and everything was nicely tied up and happily concluded. And to be honest, I felt a little surprised by it. It just all felt too rushed.
But it didn’t detract from the fact that I enjoyed the book, and will definitely try The Shipping news at some stage.