By 1892 it is already obvious to the residents of Orerich, Colorado that the boomtown is slated for extinction, its mining claims played out and its dead-end rail-line serving as a metaphor for its future. The town is half a Noah’s Ark—one of everything a small settlement might need—one metalsmith, one dairyman, one post office, one “sporting house,” one saloon, and one school. Classes are held in the Gilmore Opera House, which is both church and community center, and now schoolhouse. It is a grand building with a mansard roof and a large three-hundred-seat auditorium. The students sit on the stage, which adds to their discomfort; it is as though their scholastic failures are being scrutinized by an invisible audience. The respectable children sit up front, near the teacher. They have appropriate clothes, the kind that appear in newspaper illustrations, with lacy ribbons and sashes, matching muffs in the winter, tight suspenders, dainty boots the girls can hardly walk in.

The Proust Questionnaire is a series of questions about ambitions, fears and proclivities popular in late 19th century drawing rooms. Marcel Proust once answered such a questionnaire; since then, it has been appropriated by television (James Lipton asks it of his guests on “Inside the Actors Studio”) and magazines (Vanity Fair asks the questions of a different celebrity each month). Here I pose the questions to myself (along with a couple that Proust didn’t answer).