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That Old Ace in the Hole

That Old Ace in the Hole

Read by: Arliss Howard
  • reading group guide
In That Old Ace in the Hole, Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award winner Annie Proulx has written an exhilarating story brimming with language, history, landscape, music, and love. The novel, Proulx's fourth, is told through the eyes of Bob Dollar, a young Denver man trying to make good in a bad world. Dollar is out of college but aimless, and he takes a job with Global Pork Rind -- his task to locate big spreads of land in the Texas and Oklahoma panhandles that can be purchased by the corporation and converted to hog farms.
Dollar finds himself in a Texas town called Woolybucket, whose idiosyncratic inhabitants have ridden out all manner of seismic shifts in panhandle country. These are tough men and women who survived tornadoes and dust storms, and witnessed firsthand the demise of the great cattle ranches. Now it's feed lots, hog farms, and ever-expanding drylands.
Dollar settles into LaVon Fronk's old bunkhouse for fifty dollars a month, helps out at Cy Frease's Old Dog Café, targets Ace and Tater Crouch's ranch for Global Pork, and learns the hard way how vigorously the old owners will hold on to their land, even though their children want no part of it.
Robust, often bawdy, strikingly original and intimate, That Old Ace in the Hole tracks the vast waves of change that have shaped the American landscape and character over the past century -- and in Bob Dollar, Proulx has created one of the most irresistible characters in contemporary fiction.
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  • Simon & Schuster Audio | 
  • ISBN 9780743548830 | 
  • December 2002
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Read an Excerpt

Chapter 1: Global Pork Rind

In late March Bob Dollar, a young, curly-headed man of twenty-five with the broad face of a cat, pale innocent eyes fringed with sooty lashes, drove east along Texas State Highway 15 in the panhandle, down from Denver the day before, over the Raton Pass and through the dead volcano country of northeast New Mexico to the Oklahoma pistol barrel, then a wrong turn north and wasted hours before he regained the way. It was a roaring spring morning with green in the sky, the air spiced with sand sagebrush and aromatic sumac. NPR faded from the radio in a string of announcements of corporate supporters, replaced by a... see more

Reading Group Guide

Reading Group Guide for That Old Ace in the Hole
1) What techniques does the author use in the first sentence of this novel to bring the rich world of the Panhandle alive? Similarly, how do the vivid, meticulous descriptions that characterize the first chapter acquaint us not only with Bob Dollar, but with the complex and often contradictory images that dot the Texas landscape?
2) Bob Dollar describes the Panhandle by saying, "it seemed he was not so much in a place as confronting the raw material of human use." How does this quote, which comes early on in the story, set the stage for the struggle that happens between the people of Woolybucket, and the Hog industry? How does the Panhandle give Bob the impression that it is not a place, or a home, but a landscape made for human consumption?
3) Martin Merton Fronk, Cy Frease, Rope Butt, Tater Crouch. These are just a few examples of the sometimes humorous and always original names Proulx gives to the characters who inhabit That Old Ace in the Hole. How much importance should we, as the reader, give to these names? In what ways does the author use names, not only to highlight specific aspects of characters' personalities, but to show where people are coming from and where the plot might be going?
4) Is this a story about small town history and interpersonal dynamics between country folk? Is it a fictionalized account of the dangers of industrializing farmland? Or is it about the constant and ine see more

About the Author

Annie Proulx
Gus Powell

Annie Proulx

Annie Proulx is the author of eight books, including the novel The Shipping News and the story collection Close Range. Her many honors include a Pulitzer Prize, a National Book Award, the Irish Times International Fiction Prize, and a PEN/Faulkner award. Her story “Brokeback Mountain,” which originally appeared in The New Yorker, was made into an Academy Award-winning film. Her most recent book is Fine Just the Way It Is. She lives in Wyoming.

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