The Brokeback Book: From Story to Cultural Phenomenon

The Brokeback Book: From Story to Cultural Phenomenon

The Brokeback Book: From Story to Cultural Phenomenon

The Brokeback Book: From Story to Cultural Phenomenon


An American Western made by a Taiwanese director and filmed in Canada, Brokeback Mountain was a global cultural phenomenon even before it became the highest grossing gay-themed drama in film history. Few films have inspired as much passion and debate, or produced as many contradictory responses, from online homage to late-night parody. In this wide-ranging and incisive collection, writers, journalists, scholars, and ordinary viewers explore the film and Annie Proulx's original story as well as its ongoing cultural and political significance. The contributors situate Brokeback Mountain in relation to gay civil rights, The cinematic and literary Western, The Chinese value of forbearance, male melodrama, and urban and rural working lives across generations and genders. The Brokeback Book builds on earlier debates by novelist David Leavitt, critic Daniel Mendelsohn, producer James Schamus, and film reviewer Kenneth Turan with new and noteworthy interpretations of the Brokeback phenomenon, The film, and its legacy. Also appearing in print For The first time is Michael Silverblatt's interview with Annie Proulx about the story she wrote And The film it became.


William R. Handley

So much happens so quickly in one short story. Twenty years fly by in the fictional lives of Ennis del Mar and Jack Twist, two young ranch hands in Wyoming who fall into an episodic twenty-year love affair after their summer in 1963 working together on Brokeback Mountain. Then Jack dies, and Ennis discovers Jack has memorialized his love for Ennis and their idyll by entwining in his closet two shirts they had worn that first summer, a summer cut short by weather and by a boss who knew too much, and too little.

And something singular had happened, seemingly in a flash: The New Yorker had published a Western story of same-sex love in its October 13, 1997, issue. Readers, as if they were miners spying precious minerals, were riveted to the story’s sentences across those fleeting twenty years, but the story was tough to extract as its minerals were rare and pure, unyielding. Unable or unwilling to forget Ennis and Jack, many readers might not have known how to talk to them if they were real. Even so, in response to Annie Proulx’s mix of gritty realism and fantasy sprang a well of inchoate feeling: longing, sympathy, and passion for and on behalf of Ennis and Jack, combined with a suppressed rage toward the indifferent or violent American West from which Proulx, through her scrupulously unsentimental recognition of human limitations and ends, had made their story inseparable.

The story is about human ends, not fate—certainly not fate. It is just an accident with a blown tire that killed Jack Twist, some readers believe, in the version Jack’s widow, Lureen, recounts to Ennis. Others . . .

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