25 pages • 50 minutes readAnnie Proulx
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“55 Miles to the Gas Pump” is the penultimate story in Annie Proulx’s 1999 collection Close Range: Wyoming Stories, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction and short-listed for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. The collection includes what is perhaps Proulx’s best-known story, “Brokeback Mountain,” which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film by director Ang Lee in 2005. Like other stories in Close Range, “55 Miles to the Gas Pump” addresses themes of The Dangerous Effects of Isolation, The Violence of Rigid Gender Norms, and Death and Mortality.
This guide refers to the story as it appears in the Scribner trade paperback edition of Close Range: Wyoming Stories 1 (2003).
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Content Warning: This story includes a suicide and references to the sexual assault and murder of women.
The story consists of two paragraphs of one long sentence each, as well as a final stand-alone sentence. The first paragraph tells of Rancher Croom: a disheveled “cattleman” who dances and brews his own beer, which sometimes overflows its bottles. One night, Croom embarks on a drunken horse ride, stopping to dismount and peer over a cliff at the “tumbled rock” below. After a brief pause, he steps over the edge with a final “roar.” The narrator does not describe the moment of Croom’s death but rather claims that “before he hits he rises again to the top of the cliff like a cork in a bucket of milk” (Paragraph 1).
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The second paragraph opens with Rancher Croom’s wife on the roof of their house, sawing into the attic. For 12 years, Croom has forbidden her to go in the attic, which he has placed under lock and key. After discarding the saw, Mrs. Croom uses “a chisel and hammer” to clear a space to peer inside (Paragraph 2). There, she sees exactly what she expected to: the bodies of several women Mr. Croom has murdered. The women, whom Mrs. Croom recognizes from newspaper articles, are in various states of decay and bear the marks of Croom’s rough treatment: “tarry handprints, the marks of boot heels” (Paragraph 2). One body is wrapped in newspaper.
The third paragraph consists of a single sentence: “When you live a long way out you make your own fun” (Paragraph 3).
By Annie Proulx