Driving on the Rim

( 26 )

Overview

A Washington Post Best Novel of the Year 
 
Berl Pickett is a housepainter turned doctor living in the small town of Livingston, Montana. The son of Pentecostal rug-shampooers, Pickett has never been the social toast of the town, but when he is accused of negligent homicide in the death of his former lover, he finds himself ostracized by his colleagues and realizes just how small his little village truly is. But fortunately for Berl, ...

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Overview

A Washington Post Best Novel of the Year 
 
Berl Pickett is a housepainter turned doctor living in the small town of Livingston, Montana. The son of Pentecostal rug-shampooers, Pickett has never been the social toast of the town, but when he is accused of negligent homicide in the death of his former lover, he finds himself ostracized by his colleagues and realizes just how small his little village truly is. But fortunately for Berl, the very thing that sets him apart—his inability to follow the pack—proves to be his saving grace. With this inglorious hero, McGuane has created an unforgettable voyager on a darkly funny journey to salvation.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“No American novelist provides greater pleasure—sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page—than this Montana icon.” —Chicago Sun-Times
 
“Excellent. . . . Expertly quilting together the sacred and the profane, the comic and the tragic. . .  Driving on the Rim should be read aloud and savored.” —The Boston Globe 
 
“Irrepressibly comic and optimistic, even when it verges on the tragic, [Driving on the Rim] is full of oddballs and free spirits.” —The New York Times Book Review
 
“Triumphant. . . . McGuane’s funniest novel, absurdist in an inimitably American way. . . . One of this country’s greatest comic novelists, right up there with Mark Twain.” —Men’s Journal

“Cunningly, masterfully complex. . . . It’s not easy to shift from rambling comedy to darker musings on guilt, mortality and the prospect of guiding oneself through a meaningless universe. But McGuane does it brilliantly.” —Richmond Times-Dispatch
 
Driving on the Rim contains coincidence, danger, dark humor—with fishing and booze as anodynes. . . . [McGuane] retains his capacity to surprise, to craft a sentence that slices, to create out on the old frontier a fresh iteration of an old story. And to show with mountain clarity the intricate tuition required to educate the heart.” —The Plain Dealer
 
“Berl Pickett . . . is a splendid addition to the gallery of semi-cracked eccentrics who populate the literature of the American West. . . . [McGuane] uncork[s] sentences full of cowboy poetry and beguiling rhythms.” —The Washington Post Book World
 
“McGuane has long been forming unforgettable people out of the dust and dirt of the country he knows best—characters that just get fuller and richer and less predictable.” —Los Angeles Times  
 
“Thomas McGuane has delivered one of the finest books of his career.” —New West
 
“[McGuane] is at his very best when writing about the Montana landscape and fishing; that’s where he becomes a poet in the grand tradition of Roderick Haig-Brown and Norman Maclean. . . . A mixture of picaresque narrative and a deep love for the environment.” —The Seattle Times
 
“Literary canonization might be imminent. . . . McGuane’s novels are comic, complex and infused with . . . depth.” —St. Petersburg Times
 
“There are riches here, especially sentence by crackling sentence, and McGuane is as good as ever on the redeeming aspects of a troubled country.” —The New York Times
 
“Few writers produce a higher ration of stunners per page.” —The Salt Lake Tribune
 
“McGuane can spin mood on a dime, writing humorously in half the sentence, tragically in the next half. . . . Seriousness . . . never dominates Mr. McGuane’s bright, intelligent style. He is remarkably quotable, his characterizations spot-on.” —Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
 
“With so many of McGuane’s books in the past quarter-century set in Montana, his canon almost constitutes a bestiary, a field guide to the New West, Y-chromosome edition. . . . One of our finest prose stylists. Few writers conjure landscape as well as McGuane. . . . Clean and crackling.” —The Denver Post
 
“Sterling, serious writing.” —Pittsburgh Tribune-Review
 
“Weaves comedy and tragedy into a compelling tale.” —The Sacramento Bee
 
Driving on the Rim does more than deliver a story. It demonstrates McGuane’s remarkable ability to create and then untangle multiple plotlines, bringing us, once again, to wonder at his ability to create uniquely hilarious characters that remind us so much of ourselves.” —High Country News
 
“Bawdy, humorous, and sometimes moving and tragic. . . . Driving on the Rim is full of lovely little moments . . . shrewd observations, funny one-liners, and memorable quotes that beg to be repeated.” —Bookreporter.com
 
“Darkly comic with a narrative that is both sarcastic and sassy. . . . This is an exceptional piece of writing.” —The Tucson Citizen

Maile Meloy
As with McGuane's earlier novels, the rambling plot is sustained because the individual episodes are a pleasure, often farcical and always acutely observed, and because the hero is sympathetic in his dissociated journey…there are riches here, especially sentence by crackling sentence, and ­McGuane is as good as ever on the redeeming aspects of a troubled country—on diving prairie falcons, the satisfactions of work, and people who tell absurd stories about themselves on their way to growing up.
—The New York Times
Michael Lindgren
Berl Pickett, the feckless doctor, fisherman, lover and accused murderer who narrates Thomas McGuane's Driving on the Rim, is a splendid addition to the gallery of semi-cracked eccentrics who populate the literature of the American West…That McGuane is able to build a hugely amusing and even moving novel around such a resounding antihero is testament to the enduring charms of one of the odder careers in American letters.
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly
McGuane (Gallatin Canyon) adds another rueful portrait to his gallery of flawed masculine types, set, again, in Big Sky Country. Berl Pickett is a smalltown doctor whose ill-advised decision to try to cover up an old friend’s suicide attempt leads to dire consequences when she later dies from her injuries: his clinic privileges are suspended and he faces a possible criminal negligence charge. With plenty of time on his hands, Berl reverts to his former profession of house painter. Between jobs, he contemplates his past--seduced at 14 by his aunt, professionally inspired by a kindly doctor who alone saw the potential in him--and contends with a couple of women: Jocelyn, a pilot with a shady acquaintance, and colleague Jinx Mayhall, a quiet beauty who discomfits him with her pointed inquiries into his character. The novel is more contemplative than dramatic, ending, as it does, on a decidedly anticlimactic note, but readers who relish McGuane’s signature descriptions of hunting, fishing, birding, and cruising (in a rattletrap Olds Starfire 88) will once again be satisfied with the bard of the Absaroka Mountains’ laid-back take on contemporary American manhood. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Rosenthal Award winner McGuane's (tommcguane.com) tenth novel is his first to be recorded on audio. Set in Montana, as his five previous novels have been, it is a first-person narrative centering on the life of I.B. Pickett, M.D. Schooled in the erotic arts by his own aunt at age 14, Pickett has the propensity for womanizing and poor decision-making that are matched only by his insightful observations regarding his own immaturity. While laugh-aloud hilarious, the tale is a bit overlong and occasionally rambles. Further, though narrator Traber Burns's no-nonsense, straightforward delivery is appropriate for Pickett, it lacks some inspiration. Recommended for public libraries expanding their offerings of men's fiction; especially recommended for those who enjoy the novels of Jim Harrison. [The Knopf hc was recommended "for fans and ambitious readers," LJ 7/10.—Ed.]—Carly Wiggins, Western Michigan Univ., Kalamazoo
Kirkus Reviews

In the latest from McGuane (Gallatin Canyon, 2007, etc.), the narrative voice is often very funny, but its skewed perspective comes at the expense of plot momentum and character development.

In the first sentence, the protagonist introduces himself as "Berl Pickett, Dr. Berl Pickett," before proceeding to explain that his full name is "Irving Berlin Pickett," his mother's choice, where his father had wanted "Lefty Frizzell Pickett," which, the narrator says, "would have been worse." Though perhaps more appropriate, for the novel is like one long string of honky-tonk jukebox selections, offering various themes on love gone wrong or awry, sex as a substitute for love, love as a substitute for sex, and the ultimate question of whether friendship is a necessary component for love or the antithesis of romance. The narrator defines love as "that moronic oblivion that makes the world go round," and explains that "the essence of romance (is an) indifference to truth." Yet the small-town Montana doctor is less a cynic than a hopeless romantic, his life complicated by not only a series of inappropriate or misguided sexual liaisons but a couple of deaths that occur on his watch. He faces manslaughter charges in the one for which he insists he is innocent, an innocence tarnished by the guilt he feels in the other death, a complicity that no one suspects. There is also an airplane crash, which both results in another ill-fated romantic quest and provides thematic resonance with the references to 9/11 scattered here and there. If such summary sounds like a jumble, the narrator himself suggests that his account may be suspect, that "We had, between how I was perceived by my colleagues and the ways in which I saw myself, true cognitive dissonance," and that "I started to look for signs of craziness in myself, and I found plenty." Though the novelist has often balanced metaphysical depth with dark humor, here the balance seems off.

Major author, minor work.

The Barnes & Noble Review

For a cynic, the novelist Thomas McGuane is quite the sunny optimist, at least on evidence of his latest protagonist, one Irving Berlin Pickett, M.D. The latter does pretty much everything a man could possibly do to discourage the eventuality of a happy ending -- using up about forty years of life in the process -- but finally gets there anyway, to the all-consoling redemptions of love.

There is much that needs redeeming. In a first-person narrative (the second time McGuane has used the mode, after 1978's Panama), the housepainter-cum-doctor, a self-described "ninny" but actually an acute observer of both general human and peculiarly American folly, recounts innumerable instances of indiscriminate coupling (wives of friends, nurses, patients, even an aunt) and wise-ass foolhardiness. Among instances of this last are uncomfortably close involvements with suicides and ill-advised retaliations against rivals of all stripes. For much of the book, he writes his own cautionary tale against moving through life as a purely reactive being who lacks a considered code of morality. It naturally makes him a magnet for character-trying events: "Nowadays, experiences came at me like bugs hitting the windshield."

But what fascinating bugs they are, at least before they are so unceremoniously squashed: McGuane is a self-assured writer of great comedic powers, and he has an exquisitely calibrated sense of how far to go before dropping over the edge of the absurd. He also comes close to writing passages that are comedy-club ready:

The day came when Mrs. Vaughn discovered the uses to which the cabin cruiser was being put, and she divorced [T. Sam, a friend]. "Miss Lillian" had been named after her. He renamed the boat "Miss Ruby" after a subsequent lady friend, then "Miss Alice," then "Miss Judy," and so on the last time her transom was repainted, she was called "Queen for a Day."

As the locale of the story is Montana, McGuane's home and the compelling subject of much of his work, he is also customarily and seriously poetic about the natural world, including episodes where his anti-hero Pickett becomes lost in the wild, or goes fishing to soothe the incompletely examined roilings of his conscience: in the outdoors, he says, he always found "something of a cosmic liturgy." It is a better religion than that of his crackpot mother, who spoke in tongues and used to accost passersby on the street with visions of her god.

When the many tendrils of the story threaten to grow beyond the edges of any single narrative -- leafing off the main line of the narrator's already complex tales are those of his father's experiences in World War II, internecine machinations at the clinic in which he practices, and smaller shoots that concern riding horses and painting houses and birdwatching -- McGuane trims them back to the center of his picaresque comedy: the moment at which the salvations of love in the form of a good woman are finally embraced.

"Have I learned anything?" Pickett at one point asks, and if we know the answer is "Not really, because you just happen to be a lucky bastard," we ourselves have learned much. The paramount lesson is that Thomas McGuane writes like a well-aimed pistol shoots: fast, true, and straight to the heart.

--Melissa Holbrook Pierson

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781400075225
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 10/4/2011
  • Series: Vintage Contemporaries Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 385,964
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

Thomas McGuane lives on a ranch in McLeod, Montana. He is the author of nine novels, three works of nonfiction, and two collections of stories.

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Read an Excerpt

1

My name is Berl Pickett, Dr. Berl Pickett. But I sign checks and documents “I. B. Pickett,” and this requires some explanation. My very forceful mother, a patriot and evangelical Christian, named me after the author of “God Bless America”; so, I am Irving Berlin Pickett and well aware of the absurdity of my name. My father wanted Lefty Frizzell Pickett. That would have been worse. In any case, my very name illustrates the borrowed nature of my life, not easily denied. In fact, I’ve learned to enjoy my circumstances as I have moved among people trapped in their homes, jobs, and families—and their names! My esteemed colleague Alan Hirsch, mountaineer and cardiologist, calls me Irving, with a chuckle. When I first arrived at our clinic from the Indian Health Service, Dr. Hirsch told me that I couldn’t call myself a physician until I had delivered babies to ambivalent parents or taught the old to accept their grotesque new faces. I don’t know about that, but I do abide in the conviction that I’ve come a long way, and lately I’ve wondered how this all happened.

L. Raymond Hoxey bought an old mansion in Livingston, Montana, and converted the third floor into a delightful apartment with a view of the Absaroka Mountains. The second floor housed his print collection in archival conditions, with humidifiers and air-quality equipment. The first floor was divided into two smaller but still comfortable apartments, one of which was home to his assistant, Tessa Larionov, and the other, in summer, to a textile historian employed by the Metropolitan Museum in New York, who was also a trout fisherman.

The year the historian died, I was still in pre-med and painting houses to support myself; I moved into his vacated apartment. Acknowledging that there is a difference between being naive and being innocent, I will say that I was entirely naive. My parents lived a few miles away, but we weren’t getting along and I needed some distance, despite the fact that my mother was sick and often ranted about God. There are many versions of God around the world, but my mother’s was definitely a guy, and a mean one. Like many aspiring to study medicine, I planned to get rich but I wasn’t rich yet; I was just a poor house painter—out of work and looking for whatever came along—and despite all other evidence, I feared that I would be one forever, packing a great wheel of color chips from one indifferent house to another. I don’t mean to suggest mild insecurity here: by any reasonable standard, I was losing my mind.

Tessa Larionov was the daughter of a Russian engineer who had immigrated to the United States in 1953 and found his way to Montana, where he set up business building bridges for the railroad. His offices were in Choteau, where Tessa was born and grew up. Tessa’s mother was not Russian; her father had met her in New Jersey, where he first landed. She may have been Italian. Tessa was a powerfully built but attractive woman, with black hair, black eyes, and the look of a Tartar, wry and a little dangerous. She was liked by everyone who knew her. Trained in library science, she had worked as an archivist at some very august places, including the Huntington, in Pasadena, where she’d met her future employer and our landlord, L. Raymond Hoxey, who had let Tessa talk him into retiring to Montana to run his rare-prints business with her help. Hoxey was eighty-one years old, and his arrangement with Tessa was a means of avoiding assisted living. She was very fond of him and had wanted to go home to Montana, and so it worked for both of them. Tessa was exactly thirty, still single, though she had enjoyed an active love life, leaving in her wake only grateful hearts, or so she said. “They’re all still crazy about me,” she told me. “That’s why I left California.” Settling down was of no interest; she’d grown absorbed with the prints, and she wanted to keep her eye on Hoxey. I was twenty, but she treated me as if I were even younger—a salute to my retarded behavior.

My father had worked briefly as a pipe fitter for the Northern Pacific Railroad. In the course of corporate takeovers, the railroad had actually changed its name several times, but Northern Pacific was the one that stuck in all our minds. It meant something. Burlington Northern meant nothing. Then he had a little stock farm he liked to call a ranch, whose main purpose was to let him keep horses. But he lost it to the bank and went to work for the post office. My mother was a hairdresser and, because of her big mouth and religious mania, had enemies all over southwestern Montana and very few customers. During my childhood, they had had a traveling rug-cleaning business, and the three of us saw most of the West as we towed the steamer behind our van, an old-fashioned Steam Jenny with an oil-filled crankcase and a picture of a Vargas-type girl in black nylons emblazoned on its side—wonderful years, really. As an only child, I was all but homeschooled, then run back and forth between our house and the less fashionable of the two grade schools, before going to the local high school, where I was anonymous, never having been allowed by my overprotective mother to learn a sport. My mother joined one Pentecostal church after another, followed by my father, whose skepticism had long ago evaporated in the heat of her enthusiasm; they stopped just short of snake handling. But I liked to fish; I’d fish wherever there was water, and I fished in a lot of ditches where there was no hope of success. I now understand that I was for my age a weirdly underdeveloped human being, ripe for the sort of encounter I had with Tessa Larionov. Even my mother noticed my immaturity; she was always telling me, “Stop staring at people!” But she had once given me a gift beyond price: looking down at me when I was a little boy, she said, “You’re an old soul. You’ve been here before.”

It was Hoxey whom I got to know first. The day I arranged to rent from him, he happened to have received several Reginald Marsh prints, of which he was very proud and which he wanted me to see. I acted like I’d heard of Reginald Marsh. I didn’t know one painter from another, but I had a hunger for this sort of information; I felt it would be useful later, when I was rich. Hoxey was a pleasant old man who must have once been very fat, because he had loose flesh hanging from him everywhere and as many as seven chins. I always tried to count them while he was speaking to me, but then something in his remarks would break my concentration. This physicality, which bespoke a lifetime of phlegmatic living, gave his discourse on prints the authority of a weathered desert rat holding forth on cactus. I remember him carefully unpacking one of the prints—a kind of crazy thing with blank-faced people swarming in and out of doorways, none of them reacting to anyone else. Hoxey said that it was the calmest Reginald Marsh he’d ever seen. “No ‘Moonlight and Pretzels’ in this one!” he cried. I could see both that he’d be an agreeable landlord and that many health issues lay before him. As someone aspiring to be a doctor, I could make a little game of guessing which one would kill him.

Tessa asked me over one night for drinks. She had done a beautiful job of making her apartment habitable, with comfortable old furniture that she’d bought cheap and upholstered. She also had a good many of Hoxey’s prints on loan, though, as she explained, she was really just storing them, and her collection changed as things were sold from Hoxey’s inventory. She made a little face when she told me that she couldn’t afford to get attached to any of the prints, quite a trial for her, as she loved the art of all nations. Cocktails and art, I thought; maybe I’ll get into her pants. I’m sure that at the time I had a big goober smile on my face as I contemplated such an outcome. Tessa said I reminded her of Li’l Abner.

“Because I work upstairs, I’ve had to become a walker just to get outside,” she said, making our drinks in a blender. “You start getting curious about different neighborhoods—where the railroaders lived, where the ranchers retired, where the doctors and bankers lived. In the winter, when the wind is up, I have to tie a scarf over my face. Anybody you see in the street is ducking for a building, kind of like in the Blitz.”

As I waited for my drink, I found myself leaning forward in my chair with my hands pressed between my knees. It was only when she stopped to look at me that I realized my posture was strange. I pretended that I was just stretching and leaned back in an apparently casual but quite uncomfortable position. As Tessa came toward me with a brightly colored drink, both she and it seemed to be expanding, and when she handed me the drink I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to hold it. I felt suddenly that everything was bigger than me, that I was in over my head, trying to handle a situation which, when I was rich, I would take to like a duck to water. But things settled down quickly as soon as she returned to her seat, and I was then glad to have the drink because I was a bit cotton-mouthed. I had gone from my first impulse of getting into her pants to fearing that she’d try to get into mine.

I was not much of a drinker; water would have served as well. That summer I’d made an experimental foray into a local bar, feeling that I needed to learn to be more social. I struck up a conversation with a somber middle-aged fellow in a rumpled suit. He looked so gloomy that I regaled him with what I felt were uplifting accounts of my struggles at school. He stared at me for a while, until I sensed that all the timing was disappearing from my delivery. Finally he said, “Hey, boss, I got to go. You’re creeping me out.”

“Now,” Tessa said, “let’s start at the beginning: what do you think being a doctor will do for you?”

“I don’t know.” My answer came out so quickly it startled her. She leaned back into the sofa—she was at one end, I at the other—with her elbow propped on the back of it and her fingers parting the hair on the side of her head.

“You don’t know?”

“I wish I did. Sorry.” Involuntarily singing out this last word.

“No, that’s all right. That’s fine. If you don’t want to talk about it, I’m okay with that.”

I didn’t share the image that I had of myself, still dark-haired but with a graying moustache, going up the gangplank of a yacht. I kept sipping my drink, looking into it as if it were a teleprompter and I were the president of the United States. The colorful liquid seemed like something I had found. I don’t know why I made people so uncomfortable. As a kind of icebreaker, I thought to ask her a question.

“When people use the expression ‘rest in peace’ do you think they have some basis for saying it, or is it just wishful thinking?”

I can’t imagine what made me believe that she’d have the answer to this doleful conundrum. But surely my mother’s poor health was on my mind.

“You mean, about the dead?”

“Sure.”

Tessa looked at me for a very long time before saying anything.

“You know, let’s try this another time. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s me, but at this point in time and space it’s just not happening.”

I backed out of there like a crab. I felt sorry for Tessa; she probably had trouble sleeping after this weird visit from the new neighbor. I just didn’t know what to do about it—an apology would have made it seem even stranger.

Thereafter, we sometimes ran into each other in the hallway adjoining our apartments, and it did not get any less awkward. I made increasingly maladroit attempts to be cordial, these being received with growing skepticism, even revulsion, until upon seeing me Tessa would dart into her apartment and slam her door. What was strange was that if I lingered in the hallway after she’d gone inside, I would always, moments later, hear her phone ring.

Once she said to me, “I know you’re tracking my movements.” And another time, “Don’t think you’re fooling me.” And another, a cry, “Please stop!”

“Stop what?”

A mirthless laugh followed and a slammed door.

I made every effort to avoid these encounters. Indeed, I did start tracking her movements, if only to avoid her. She headed upstairs to work for Hoxey at exactly nine, out for the mail at ten thirty, lunch with Hoxey in his apartment Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, catered by Mountain Foodstuff, out to lunch Tuesday and Thursday, but always back by one thirty, dispatching UPS and FedEx and other outbound packages at four o’clock, at which point her workday was over. I really didn’t have a bead on her activities and so came and went from my apartment nervously. When she had men over, they seemed to linger around my door as if on the lookout for me. One strapping fellow with a shiny black goatee positioned himself as though to actually block my way. I gave him a big smile and pushed past. He smelled like motor oil. He said, “Hello, Doc.” Tessa must have told him that I was in pre-med. I said hello. I was glad to get inside, and when I looked through the little spy hole in the door, I saw into his ear.

Concentrating on the Help Wanted ads calmed me down. I had discovered that I needed to look for work elsewhere, as people in town knew who I was and—this really is very funny—held my studies against me. “You can’t paint my house,” Mrs. Taliaferro said. “You’re going to be a doctor!”

“Not necessarily!” I said in my warmest tones, while hers cooled markedly. I have no idea why I answered her that way. I was sure I was going to be a doctor, but when I was under pressure to make conversation, it was as if all my life’s plans went up in smoke. I felt the need to persuade Mrs. Taliaferro that I would be a lifelong house painter.

I kept studying the paper. I recognized that real opportunities existed for those who would sell cars or apply siding, but given the trouble I was having with my communication skills, I thought those occupations might not be up my alley. Still, I really felt that once I got my timing back—and it was a timing issue—I’d be able to look into a different set of prospects. I was very much focused on the chance to be unexceptional; if I had the opportunity to keep my head down, I meant to take it.

I got a job working for a very nice guy, or so I thought, named Dan Lauderdale. He was an attorney in Billings who specialized in whiplash and owned a cute little turn-of-the-century cottage in Harlowton, which he used as a weekend place—or, rather, somewhere to vacation with his secretary, who did not enjoy the same legal standing as his wife. “Lawyers like me make doctors leave the profession every day!” he joked. “Stick to painting houses.” But he was an amiable fellow with a big laugh that drew one’s attention away from his shrewd, close-set eyes. His dark brown curls were so uniform and regular as to suggest the work of a beautician. When I asked him if they were natural, he told me to mind my own business with such vituperation that I actually flinched. The previous owner of his cottage had used stolen Forest Service paint for the trim and shutters, and Dan now wanted it to be all yellow, “like sunshine, get it?” I was basically rehearsing what I thought to be the style of my current position when I said, “No problema,” but he must have sensed something wrong with my delivery, for his eyes grew narrow and he just said, “Right.” Many years later, Dan Lauderdale would become a well-known judge and part of my life.

I rented a pressure washer, masked everything, used a quality primer, and picked my weather for the final coat. It looked much better, but Lauderdale never responded to the bill I sent, nor the second or third. Live and learn. I wasn’t much interested in exploring my remedies, and since other revenues were unassured, I sold my car and went on a grocery binge. Also, in celebration of two months in the apartment, I bought a bed, which I put out in the middle of the living room, where I could luxuriate in all that space and gaze east, west, and south, but not north, at fine window views that were better than any painting, in that they were full of those moving, changing parts known as “Life.”

I heard a timid knock on my door and called, “Enter!” I was stretched out on my new bed in my shorts reading a newspaper I’d found in the doorway to the bank. My visitor was the chief of police. I was really pleased to see him, so pleased that I easily set aside any worries over the reason for his visit. I suppose I was lonely. In a decent society, the chief of police is the one stranger you should be able to welcome into your home without reservation. In this case the first thing he told me was that I’d better get dressed, as I was going to jail. He gazed at me with sad knowingness. He had a big, warm face; it shouldn’t be misunderstood if I declare that he looked like Porky Pig, with all that guileless amiability, the same pink complexion.

“Tessa Larionov”—he gestured with his head in the direction of Tessa’s abode—“has charged you with making obscene phone calls to her.”

“Oh?” I said. “I don’t have a phone.”

For one miraculous moment, there were people passing all three windows, and the chief remarked that I needed curtains.

“How bad were they supposed to be?” I tried to picture myself as the twisted man placing these calls. In a weird way, it seemed plausible.

“They were not nice.”

From the Hardcover edition.

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First Chapter

Driving on the Rim


By Thomas McGuane

Knopf

Copyright © 2010 Thomas McGuane
All right reserved.

ISBN: 9781400041558

1

My name is Berl Pickett, Dr. Berl Pickett. But I sign checks and documents “I. B. Pickett,” and this requires some explanation. My very forceful mother, a patriot and evangelical Christian, named me after the author of “God Bless America”; so, I am Irving Berlin Pickett and well aware of the absurdity of my name. My father wanted Lefty Frizzell Pickett. That would have been worse. In any case, my very name illustrates the borrowed nature of my life, not easily denied. In fact, I’ve learned to enjoy my circumstances as I have moved among people trapped in their homes, jobs, and families—and their names! My esteemed colleague Alan Hirsch, mountaineer and cardiologist, calls me Irving, with a chuckle. When I first arrived at our clinic from the Indian Health Service, Dr. Hirsch told me that I couldn’t call myself a physician until I had delivered babies to ambivalent parents or taught the old to accept their grotesque new faces. I don’t know about that, but I do abide in the conviction that I’ve come a long way, and lately I’ve wondered how this all happened.

L. Raymond Hoxey bought an old mansion in Livingston, Montana, and converted the third floor into a delightful apartment with a view of the Absaroka Mountains. The second floor housed his print collection in archival conditions, with humidifiers and air-quality equipment. The first floor was divided into two smaller but still comfortable apartments, one of which was home to his assistant, Tessa Larionov, and the other, in summer, to a textile historian employed by the Metropolitan Museum in New York, who was also a trout fisherman.

The year the historian died, I was still in pre-med and painting houses to support myself; I moved into his vacated apartment. Acknowledging that there is a difference between being naive and being innocent, I will say that I was entirely naive. My parents lived a few miles away, but we weren’t getting along and I needed some distance, despite the fact that my mother was sick and often ranted about God. There are many versions of God around the world, but my mother’s was definitely a guy, and a mean one. Like many aspiring to study medicine, I planned to get rich but I wasn’t rich yet; I was just a poor house painter—out of work and looking for whatever came along—and despite all other evidence, I feared that I would be one forever, packing a great wheel of color chips from one indifferent house to another. I don’t mean to suggest mild insecurity here: by any reasonable standard, I was losing my mind.

Tessa Larionov was the daughter of a Russian engineer who had immigrated to the United States in 1953 and found his way to Montana, where he set up business building bridges for the railroad. His offices were in Choteau, where Tessa was born and grew up. Tessa’s mother was not Russian; her father had met her in New Jersey, where he first landed. She may have been Italian. Tessa was a powerfully built but attractive woman, with black hair, black eyes, and the look of a Tartar, wry and a little dangerous. She was liked by everyone who knew her. Trained in library science, she had worked as an archivist at some very august places, including the Huntington, in Pasadena, where she’d met her future employer and our landlord, L. Raymond Hoxey, who had let Tessa talk him into retiring to Montana to run his rare-prints business with her help. Hoxey was eighty-one years old, and his arrangement with Tessa was a means of avoiding assisted living. She was very fond of him and had wanted to go home to Montana, and so it worked for both of them. Tessa was exactly thirty, still single, though she had enjoyed an active love life, leaving in her wake only grateful hearts, or so she said. “They’re all still crazy about me,” she told me. “That’s why I left California.” Settling down was of no interest; she’d grown absorbed with the prints, and she wanted to keep her eye on Hoxey. I was twenty, but she treated me as if I were even younger—a salute to my retarded behavior.

My father had worked briefly as a pipe fitter for the Northern Pacific Railroad. In the course of corporate takeovers, the railroad had actually changed its name several times, but Northern Pacific was the one that stuck in all our minds. It meant something. Burlington Northern meant nothing. Then he had a little stock farm he liked to call a ranch, whose main purpose was to let him keep horses. But he lost it to the bank and went to work for the post office. My mother was a hairdresser and, because of her big mouth and religious mania, had enemies all over southwestern Montana and very few customers. During my childhood, they had had a traveling rug-cleaning business, and the three of us saw most of the West as we towed the steamer behind our van, an old-fashioned Steam Jenny with an oil-filled crankcase and a picture of a Vargas-type girl in black nylons emblazoned on its side—wonderful years, really. As an only child, I was all but homeschooled, then run back and forth between our house and the less fashionable of the two grade schools, before going to the local high school, where I was anonymous, never having been allowed by my overprotective mother to learn a sport. My mother joined one Pentecostal church after another, followed by my father, whose skepticism had long ago evaporated in the heat of her enthusiasm; they stopped just short of snake handling. But I liked to fish; I’d fish wherever there was water, and I fished in a lot of ditches where there was no hope of success. I now understand that I was for my age a weirdly underdeveloped human being, ripe for the sort of encounter I had with Tessa Larionov. Even my mother noticed my immaturity; she was always telling me, “Stop staring at people!” But she had once given me a gift beyond price: looking down at me when I was a little boy, she said, “You’re an old soul. You’ve been here before.”

It was Hoxey whom I got to know first. The day I arranged to rent from him, he happened to have received several Reginald Marsh prints, of which he was very proud and which he wanted me to see. I acted like I’d heard of Reginald Marsh. I didn’t know one painter from another, but I had a hunger for this sort of information; I felt it would be useful later, when I was rich. Hoxey was a pleasant old man who must have once been very fat, because he had loose flesh hanging from him everywhere and as many as seven chins. I always tried to count them while he was speaking to me, but then something in his remarks would break my concentration. This physicality, which bespoke a lifetime of phlegmatic living, gave his discourse on prints the authority of a weathered desert rat holding forth on cactus. I remember him carefully unpacking one of the prints—a kind of crazy thing with blank-faced people swarming in and out of doorways, none of them reacting to anyone else. Hoxey said that it was the calmest Reginald Marsh he’d ever seen. “No ‘Moonlight and Pretzels’ in this one!” he cried. I could see both that he’d be an agreeable landlord and that many health issues lay before him. As someone aspiring to be a doctor, I could make a little game of guessing which one would kill him.

Tessa asked me over one night for drinks. She had done a beautiful job of making her apartment habitable, with comfortable old furniture that she’d bought cheap and upholstered. She also had a good many of Hoxey’s prints on loan, though, as she explained, she was really just storing them, and her collection changed as things were sold from Hoxey’s inventory. She made a little face when she told me that she couldn’t afford to get attached to any of the prints, quite a trial for her, as she loved the art of all nations. Cocktails and art, I thought; maybe I’ll get into her pants. I’m sure that at the time I had a big goober smile on my face as I contemplated such an outcome. Tessa said I reminded her of Li’l Abner.

“Because I work upstairs, I’ve had to become a walker just to get outside,” she said, making our drinks in a blender. “You start getting curious about different neighborhoods—where the railroaders lived, where the ranchers retired, where the doctors and bankers lived. In the winter, when the wind is up, I have to tie a scarf over my face. Anybody you see in the street is ducking for a building, kind of like in the Blitz.”

As I waited for my drink, I found myself leaning forward in my chair with my hands pressed between my knees. It was only when she stopped to look at me that I realized my posture was strange. I pretended that I was just stretching and leaned back in an apparently casual but quite uncomfortable position. As Tessa came toward me with a brightly colored drink, both she and it seemed to be expanding, and when she handed me the drink I wasn’t sure I was strong enough to hold it. I felt suddenly that everything was bigger than me, that I was in over my head, trying to handle a situation which, when I was rich, I would take to like a duck to water. But things settled down quickly as soon as she returned to her seat, and I was then glad to have the drink because I was a bit cotton-mouthed. I had gone from my first impulse of getting into her pants to fearing that she’d try to get into mine.

I was not much of a drinker; water would have served as well. That summer I’d made an experimental foray into a local bar, feeling that I needed to learn to be more social. I struck up a conversation with a somber middle-aged fellow in a rumpled suit. He looked so gloomy that I regaled him with what I felt were uplifting accounts of my struggles at school. He stared at me for a while, until I sensed that all the timing was disappearing from my delivery. Finally he said, “Hey, boss, I got to go. You’re creeping me out.”

“Now,” Tessa said, “let’s start at the beginning: what do you think being a doctor will do for you?”

“I don’t know.” My answer came out so quickly it startled her. She leaned back into the sofa—she was at one end, I at the other—with her elbow propped on the back of it and her fingers parting the hair on the side of her head.

“You don’t know?”

“I wish I did. Sorry.” Involuntarily singing out this last word.

“No, that’s all right. That’s fine. If you don’t want to talk about it, I’m okay with that.”

I didn’t share the image that I had of myself, still dark-haired but with a graying moustache, going up the gangplank of a yacht. I kept sipping my drink, looking into it as if it were a teleprompter and I were the president of the United States. The colorful liquid seemed like something I had found. I don’t know why I made people so uncomfortable. As a kind of icebreaker, I thought to ask her a question.

“When people use the expression ‘rest in peace’ do you think they have some basis for saying it, or is it just wishful thinking?”

I can’t imagine what made me believe that she’d have the answer to this doleful conundrum. But surely my mother’s poor health was on my mind.

“You mean, about the dead?”

“Sure.”

Tessa looked at me for a very long time before saying anything.

“You know, let’s try this another time. Maybe it’s you, maybe it’s me, but at this point in time and space it’s just not happening.”

I backed out of there like a crab. I felt sorry for Tessa; she probably had trouble sleeping after this weird visit from the new neighbor. I just didn’t know what to do about it—an apology would have made it seem even stranger.

Thereafter, we sometimes ran into each other in the hallway adjoining our apartments, and it did not get any less awkward. I made increasingly maladroit attempts to be cordial, these being received with growing skepticism, even revulsion, until upon seeing me Tessa would dart into her apartment and slam her door. What was strange was that if I lingered in the hallway after she’d gone inside, I would always, moments later, hear her phone ring.

Once she said to me, “I know you’re tracking my movements.” And another time, “Don’t think you’re fooling me.” And another, a cry, “Please stop!”

“Stop what?”

A mirthless laugh followed and a slammed door.

I made every effort to avoid these encounters. Indeed, I did start tracking her movements, if only to avoid her. She headed upstairs to work for Hoxey at exactly nine, out for the mail at ten thirty, lunch with Hoxey in his apartment Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, catered by Mountain Foodstuff, out to lunch Tuesday and Thursday, but always back by one thirty, dispatching UPS and FedEx and other outbound packages at four o’clock, at which point her workday was over. I really didn’t have a bead on her activities and so came and went from my apartment nervously. When she had men over, they seemed to linger around my door as if on the lookout for me. One strapping fellow with a shiny black goatee positioned himself as though to actually block my way. I gave him a big smile and pushed past. He smelled like motor oil. He said, “Hello, Doc.” Tessa must have told him that I was in pre-med. I said hello. I was glad to get inside, and when I looked through the little spy hole in the door, I saw into his ear.

Concentrating on the Help Wanted ads calmed me down. I had discovered that I needed to look for work elsewhere, as people in town knew who I was and—this really is very funny—held my studies against me. “You can’t paint my house,” Mrs. Taliaferro said. “You’re going to be a doctor!”

“Not necessarily!” I said in my warmest tones, while hers cooled markedly. I have no idea why I answered her that way. I was sure I was going to be a doctor, but when I was under pressure to make conversation, it was as if all my life’s plans went up in smoke. I felt the need to persuade Mrs. Taliaferro that I would be a lifelong house painter.

I kept studying the paper. I recognized that real opportunities existed for those who would sell cars or apply siding, but given the trouble I was having with my communication skills, I thought those occupations might not be up my alley. Still, I really felt that once I got my timing back—and it was a timing issue—I’d be able to look into a different set of prospects. I was very much focused on the chance to be unexceptional; if I had the opportunity to keep my head down, I meant to take it.

I got a job working for a very nice guy, or so I thought, named Dan Lauderdale. He was an attorney in Billings who specialized in whiplash and owned a cute little turn-of-the-century cottage in Harlowton, which he used as a weekend place—or, rather, somewhere to vacation with his secretary, who did not enjoy the same legal standing as his wife. “Lawyers like me make doctors leave the profession every day!” he joked. “Stick to painting houses.” But he was an amiable fellow with a big laugh that drew one’s attention away from his shrewd, close-set eyes. His dark brown curls were so uniform and regular as to suggest the work of a beautician. When I asked him if they were natural, he told me to mind my own business with such vituperation that I actually flinched. The previous owner of his cottage had used stolen Forest Service paint for the trim and shutters, and Dan now wanted it to be all yellow, “like sunshine, get it?” I was basically rehearsing what I thought to be the style of my current position when I said, “No problema,” but he must have sensed something wrong with my delivery, for his eyes grew narrow and he just said, “Right.” Many years later, Dan Lauderdale would become a well-known judge and part of my life.

I rented a pressure washer, masked everything, used a quality primer, and picked my weather for the final coat. It looked much better, but Lauderdale never responded to the bill I sent, nor the second or third. Live and learn. I wasn’t much interested in exploring my remedies, and since other revenues were unassured, I sold my car and went on a grocery binge. Also, in celebration of two months in the apartment, I bought a bed, which I put out in the middle of the living room, where I could luxuriate in all that space and gaze east, west, and south, but not north, at fine window views that were better than any painting, in that they were full of those moving, changing parts known as “Life.”

I heard a timid knock on my door and called, “Enter!” I was stretched out on my new bed in my shorts reading a newspaper I’d found in the doorway to the bank. My visitor was the chief of police. I was really pleased to see him, so pleased that I easily set aside any worries over the reason for his visit. I suppose I was lonely. In a decent society, the chief of police is the one stranger you should be able to welcome into your home without reservation. In this case the first thing he told me was that I’d better get dressed, as I was going to jail. He gazed at me with sad knowingness. He had a big, warm face; it shouldn’t be misunderstood if I declare that he looked like Porky Pig, with all that guileless amiability, the same pink complexion.

“Tessa Larionov”—he gestured with his head in the direction of Tessa’s abode—“has charged you with making obscene phone calls to her.”

“Oh?” I said. “I don’t have a phone.”

For one miraculous moment, there were people passing all three windows, and the chief remarked that I needed curtains.

“How bad were they supposed to be?” I tried to picture myself as the twisted man placing these calls. In a weird way, it seemed plausible.

“They were not nice.”

Continues...

Excerpted from Driving on the Rim by Thomas McGuane Copyright © 2010 by Thomas McGuane. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 26 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted June 2, 2011

    If you like Aimless Wandering it is OK

    I struggled through this one. It was a disjointed narrative of a neurotic family doctor in a small western town who never grew up until it was almost too late.
    Would not recomment

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 20, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Readers who appreciate a profound look inside the heart and soul of a person will enjoy Driving on the Rim

    In Montana, Dr. I. B. "Berl" Pickett blames his mother for all his woes as who names a baby in Big Sky Country after Irving "God Bless America" Berlin. When his friend Clarice fails at suicide, Berl conceals her attempt. However, later she dies from her injuries and he is suspended from practicing awaiting a review board look at negligence and potential criminal charges.

    To pass time, Berl becomes a house painter, an occupation he did before he became a doctor. He also muses on his past as Irving Berlin's non protégé and at fourteen when his aunt seduced him. Berl thinks of the doctor who mentored him and the two women in his life, Jocelyn the pilot who makes him want to soar and thoughtful Dr. Jinx who makes him look inside at his soul; however it is another woman who wants him dead for what he did.

    Not for everyone as there is limited action and even that, for instance a stabbing, is quick and not very vivid. Instead Driving on the Rim is a strong reflective character study of a person who believes he is worthless in spite of several people who hold a contrary opinion about Berl. Readers who appreciate a profound look inside the heart and soul of a person will enjoy Driving on the Rim as Berl learns the true meaning of functional simple two-way and convoluted multi-way relationships.

    Harriet Klausner

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2014

    Kaiju bios/ Nightflare's bio

    Nightflare is a neutral kaiju, but it takes the humans a while to get that through their heads. She is a category four and she has wings like the one in the movie

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2013

    Quick question

    When you say pick original names, does that mean you're only allowed to pick one of the characters from the game?

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2013

    Alduin

    Growls softly then flies away

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 19, 2013

    Triana

    We need more emembers but the wll be seveeql.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 19, 2013

    Enjoyed the writing style of Thomas McGuane, as I saw some of my

    Enjoyed the writing style of Thomas McGuane, as I saw some of my own feelings, thoughts and dreams between the pages.

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  • Posted April 4, 2011

    A hard hitting, rough and tumble read.

    Thomas McGuane can spin a yarn like no other. You may not like the direction or content of the story but his writing is like wearing polarized lenses to see through the surface film and observe the fine cutthroat hunt her prey.

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