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That Old Ace in the Hole by Annie Proulx
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That Old Ace in the Hole (2002)

by Annie Proulx

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Showing 1-5 of 22 (next | show all)
I entered into this rollicking tale courtesy of my local book group. I'm not drawn to pure hijinks, but our members agreed it's sometimes good (for variety) to give over to the laughs. This one certainly fits the bill. Bob Dollar, the central character, has come creeping into the high plains panhandle of Texas as a wholly uncertain salesman for a merciless hog-production outfit. His novelistic function as a sounding-board for the menagerie of eccentric characters, however, is his real job. And much of the book is given over to stories, testaments and opinions of odd ducks such as the local Woolybucket, Tx historian LaVon Fronk, and Cy Crease, owner of the only reliable diner in town. Others come and go, in a Thomas Hardy-like crisscross of meetings and innuendo. Enjoyable for its imaginative episodes, pure, folksy humor, and even for its overarching moral/environmental message. Ultimately, however, it grows a bit windy, too scattered in focus, and the author, to quote the original NYT review, "shoehorns" too many characters into the book. ( )
  ThoughtPolice | Sep 6, 2017 |
Bob Dollar takes a job as a land scout for Global Pork Rind to locate industrial hog farms in the Texas panhandle. Since hog farms are so unpopular, he must go undercover, and presents himself as a scout for a luxury home real estate developer. He bases himself in the town of Woolybucket, lodging in an old cowboy bunkhouse and getting to know all the oldtimers in town. Proulx uses this thinnest of plots to relate episodic stories of the old cowhands from the earliest days of the twentieth century through the present day. The novel is full of eccentric and colorful characters (including the eponymous Ace Crouch, repairer of windmills) whose stories meander and criss-cross with each other over the years. Like Proulx's masterpiece The Shipping News, the sense of place, in this case the Texas panhandle rather than Newfoundland, is as important an element as the characters or the plot.

I'm really sorry I let this languish on my shelves for so long. Highly recommended.

4 stars ( )
  arubabookwoman | May 2, 2016 |
Bob Dollar might be called the naïve protagonist in this novel but it seems to me that Proulx is as interested in the panhandle area, in what life is like in those remote places as she is in any one character. This diminished the novel for me until the focus crystalised on Bob Dollar in the final third or so of the novel.

I guess I came to read this book from the disadvantaged position of finding Proulx’s first novel, ‘Postcards’, just about the best novel I’ve read. ‘The Shipping News’ wasn’t bad – much lighter which was obviously to most people’s taste and, after ‘Accordion Crimes’ (a book I found disjointed) we have this one which I think is closer to ‘The Shipping News’ in the way it has that rather unconvincing, upbeat ending, all rather forced as if Proulx wants to celebrate what the Oklahoma Panhandle stands for. There was just too much detail about this place, so much about what road led to another, something that no doubt would be appreciated in the panhandle but which made the book more parochial for me. Yes, there are aspects with a more universal import, such as the awfulness of hog farms and the cruelty to the pigs although Bob Dollar doesn’t seem to get this. In fact I found both his persistent naivety and the way he was tolerated and liked despite his lying rather odd. I wonder if Proulx expects the reader to warm towards him.

And then there’s the Ace of the title, the man who inherits mega-oil money and saves the day, bringing back the past – Gatsby would have nodded.

In short, I think Proulx reveals her love of these out of the way places and their inhabitants at some expense to the integrity of this book. ( )
  evening | Jan 19, 2016 |
Frankly, because of my experience with both the other Annie Proulx novels I've read, I was a little reluctant to even begin reading her 2002 novel "That Old Ace in the Hole." I found both "The Shipping News" and "Accordion Crimes" (well written as they are) to be a little too somber, almost depressing, to suit my tastes, but this one was a very pleasant surprise.

"That Old Ace in the Hole" is the story of one Bob Dollar, a young man from Denver so desperately in need of work that he takes a job as a scout for the Global Pork Rind company. Bad as that company name is, the job is even worse. As scout, it is up to Bob to find Texas Panhandle ranchers and formers willing to sell their acreage to him regardless of what his company plans to do on the purchased property. Because the massive hog farms run by Global Pork Rind are so ruinous to the environment and so unpleasant for the neighboring farms, Bob is encouraged to lie and cheat in any way necessary to get these aging ranchers to sign their names on the dotted line.

Bob Dollar, though, finds himself enjoying life in little Woolybucket, Texas, so much that he just can't quite bring himself to disclose his real purpose in the town. This premise allows Proulx to tell the history of the region through the wonderful characters she creates for the novel (men and women Bob Dollar is trying to deceive into selling their property), all of them descendants of those who settled that part of the state when Indians were still a constant danger.

Proulx's writing (and certainly her plot) reminds me a bit of the kind of comic novel that Larry McMurtry writes. I think that McMurtry fans will easily take to this novel and that they might even be surprised that someone out there can even top Mr. McMurtry on occasion in this type of story. I come away from "That Old Ace in the Hole" thinking that I have been underestimating Ms. Proulx's work. I look forward to reading more from her. ( )
1 vote SamSattler | Oct 10, 2014 |
The book is paced in a style that seems true to its setting: slow and steady. It takes its time to describe the scene and helps you feel the character of the town. I really liked that about the book, even though I thought I wouldn't when I began reading.
Bob Dollar is trying to buy land for hog farms for a big corporation (which is itself a character in the novel) in a small town where folks ('folks' is more appropriate than 'people') are nostalgic about the old ways and the simple ways. He's a good character: has depth and compassion and struggles with the direction of his life. Very likable.

It's been a while since I read [book:The Shipping News], but I see a similarity in it to this book, similar in a way that if you liked the one you'll probably like the other without thinking you're reading the same thing again.
Both books are set in small very rural places in which a 'newcomer' is the protagonist and gets to know (and love) the community and all its eccentric ways. Weather has a place in each book, too.
( )
  LDVoorberg | Apr 7, 2013 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Annie Proulxprimary authorall editionscalculated
Willemse, ReginaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Alle molen vangen wind.
Dedication
This book is for Jon and Gail
Muffy and Geoff
Morgan
Gillis
and for
Doug and Cathy
with the hope that all their chickens
will be prairie chickens
First words
In late March Bob Dollar, a young, curly-headed man of twenty-five with the broad face of a cat, pale innocent eyes fringed with sooty lashes, drove east along Texas State Highway 15 in the panhandle, down from Denver the day before, over the Raton Pass and through the dead volcano country of northeast New Mexico to the Oklahoma pistol barrel, then a wrong turn north and wasted hours before he regained the way.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0743242483, Paperback)

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

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:08:23 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

"In That Old Ace in the Hole Annie Proulx has written a story brimming with language, history, landscape, music, and love. The novel, Proulx's fourth, is told through the eyes of Bob Dollar, a young Denver man trying to make good in a bad world. Dollar is out of college but aimless, and he takes a job with Global Pork Rind - his task to locate big spreads of land in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles that can be purchased by the corporation and converted to hog farms." "Dollar finds himself in a Texas town called Woolybucket, whose idiosyncratic inhabitants have ridden out all manner of seismic shifts in panhandle country. These are tough men and women who survived tornadoes and dust storms, and witnessed firsthand the demise of the great cattle ranches. Now it's feed lots, hog farms, and ever-expanding drylands." "Dollar settles into LaVon Fronk's old bunkhouse for fifty dollars a month, helps out at Cy Frease's Old Dog Cafe, targets Ace and Tater Crouch's ranch for Global Pork, and learns the hard way how vigorously the old owners will hold on to their land, even though their children want no part of it."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

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