Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers). Annie Proulx’s “Rough Deeds” was originally published in the June 10 & 17, 2013 issue of The New Yorker.
Of all the stories in this week’s issue, the one I was most looking forward to was this one, because it is by Annie Proulx. I’m actually not that familiar with Proulx’s work, having read only The Shipping News and a few of her stories, but for some time now I’ve been looking forward to the day when I dig into her work.
While many people may think of Wyoming when they see a short story by Proulx, “Rough Deeds” takes us to the region around New England and southeastern Canada in the early 1700s. Yes, a piece of noir that examines the evil heart in the new world.
After a childhood of deprivation in France, Duquet has moved to New France to grow rich on timber. When his business selling timber to shipyards in Scotland is nicely developed, his business consultant, Dred-Peacock, who initially said Duquet should focus on timber around the Saint Lawrence River, says Duquet is a fool to stay in New France — the economy is to the south — and that he should begin purchasing land and townships in New England. It’s a risky proposition to deal with the land that is so hotly contested, but Duquet does just this, moving south to the colonies at the same time many other immigrants are finding homes there.
One day while surveying some timber land he purchased in Maine, Duquet and his man Forgeron come across a group of men cutting his pines. Things do not turn out well for the group, but an ominous owl watches what takes place (I, myself, was shocked to say the least — having read four of the five “crime” stories, this crime is the most horrific). Years later, after Duquet has changed his business from Duquet et Fils to Duke and Sons, that day when his ambition and rage became one will come back to haunt him.
To be sure, we see the ending coming from a mile away, and this really is, at its heart, just a wonderfully told revenge tale. And yet through the detailed writing and the atmosphere Proulx evoked, I loved walking the old land that, to Duquet, felt so new and mysterious, on which anything could happen. What more does one want from noir fiction?