Author Topic: A new book on Brokeback Mountain  (Read 2706 times)

Offline chowhound

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A new book on Brokeback Mountain
« on: Dec 26, 2009, 07:33 PM »
I have just finished reading a  new book by Mark Asquith calledBrokeback Mountain and Postcards. I thought I would post some reflections on it in case anybody is wondering whether to buy it or not. So here goes:

This latest book on Brokeback Mountain is part of a series called Continuum Contemporaries. Each volume
in this series is an exploration of a contemporary novel, though, in this case, Mark Asquith discusses not one but two works by Annie Proulx: Postcards and Brokeback Mountain. However, as each work is discussed in separate sections a reading of the Brokeback section can be undertaken without any prior knowledge of Postcards. Indeed, as far as I can see, few links between the two works are established.

Overall, I thought this was a thoughtful and intelligent reading of Brokeback Mountain. However, before undertaking his examination of the two works,  Mark Asquith provides the reader with a useful overview of Annie Proulx's life. He not only presents us with the essential facts and dates  - three marriages, three divorces, four children etc. - but also investigates her creation of her 'persona' as a writer of fiction: the down-to-earth, independent and somewhat enigmatic chronicler of rural life in America,

His discussion of Brokeback Mountain is concerned more with the short story than the film but the film is far from negelected. However, before examining the short story itself, Mark Asquith successfully places the story within the larger tradition of pastoral literature in the West, a tradition that starts in Classical times and is transferred to America by Walt Whitman who "...recognized in the splendour and marginality of the untamed American landscape a freedom for male love to express itself away from social confrontation"(p.80). Along with this, he briefly explores the relationship between Brokeback Mountain the biblical story of the expulsion of Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

Of interest as well is his exploration of the creation of the cowboy myth in the nineteenth century through the medium of paintings and novels, a myth which portrays the cowboy as an archetype of masculinity. This myth, of course, is far from dead as the movies featuring John Wayne and others clearly demonstrates. It is a myth which Jack and Ennis largely buy into. Of less interest, for me at least, was his psychological exploration of Jack and Ennis
where both of them are portrayed as existing in a state of arrested development.

His reading of the short story itself as a pastoral tragedy I found convincing. It is perceptive, detailed and often illuminating. Some of the aspects that he touches on - like the domestic imprisonment of both men - could easily form discussion topics for a board like this.

His discussion of the movie version is briefer but often insightful. It is largely concerned with the ways in which the film altered or added to the short story, such as making Ennis a more caring father figure in the  movie as compared to the short story. As well as such general topics, however, from time to time he does focus on individual items, like the meaning and significance of the straight road that we see outside of Ennis`s trailer in the closing shot of the movie.

It is a fairly easy read, with about forty smallish pages given over to Brokeback Mountain. That said, Mark Asquith covers a lot of ground with insight, intelligence and admirable lucidity.