25 pages 50 minutes read

Annie Proulx

55 Miles to the Gas Pump

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1999

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The Dangerous Effects of Isolation

From the story’s title to its final sentence, isolation emerges as a primary theme, with Rancher Croom and his wife living far from others in an unforgiving landscape. From his “handmade boots” to the “filthy hat” atop his meager hair, from his home’s “splintery boards” to the attic he keeps under lock and key, Croom lives a hard life he attempts to alleviate with dancing, drinking, and the serial murder of women. That he can stash the bodies in his attic and evade detection speaks to the physical and societal remoteness of the Croom homestead. The story’s last sentence confirms the impression, jarring and banal all at once: “When you live a long way out you make your own fun” (Paragraph 3).

This sentence in particular prompts speculation on the role isolation plays in Croom’s depravity. Living remotely allows him free rein over his darkest impulses. With neighbors and law enforcement likely as far away as the titular gas pump, he need feel no compunction about giving in to his urges. All he must do is keep his wife away from the attic, which he easily does with a padlocked door and, undoubtedly, threats of violence.