Friday, February 5, 2010

Annie Proulx's character names

As I've said in earlier posts, I think that Annie Proulx's ear for dialogue and her ability to describe the natural world and the appearance of her characters in her novel That Old Ace in the Hole is amazing. I found the names she gave her characters disconcerting and unsettling. While I am willing to trust her descriptions of the Oklahoma and Texas panhandle and willing to go along with her Candide-like main character as he looks for a place to site an agribusiness hog farm, almost every time she named a new character, my willing suspension of disbelief popped. Here's what I'm talking about:

Millrace Giddins...Ribeye Cluke...Tambourine Bapp...Wayne Redpoll...Marisa Berdstraw...Kevin Alk...Orlando Bunnel...Beryl Schwarm...High Dough...Dolly Cleat...Rohama Bustard...Jason Shrub...Tazzy Keister...Advance Slauter...Harry Howdiboy...LaVon Fronk...Rope Butt...Wally Ooly...Freda Beautyrooms...Parch Wilpin...Cy Frease...Charles Grapewine...Methiel Huff.

For all I know, Proulx paged through panhandle phone books, chose genuine first and second names, and then shuffled them to come up with these. My problem is that they don't sound real. I probably would have ridden along with her if she'd only used a few to establish a period and a place. When I name a character, I try to suggest a personality, social or ethnic background, geography, attitude, or events that occurred when the character was born. "Parch Wilpin" sounds to me like someone from Texas. "Ribeye Cluke," "Rope Butt," and "Freda Beautyrooms" do not sound like anything except random words mashed together.

1 comment:

  1. I think you can get away with one, possibly 2 odd names, but not a whole book's worth....