Hell is other people, goes the old existentialist saw. Words to live by, I say; now if only it weren’t so hellish to be alone. There is, however, a moment before you get to know a person too well, before they’ve become part of the mental furniture, as it were, when unfamiliarity bestows upon them a mystery they may not otherwise deserve. In Gallatin Canyon, his new and often astonishing collection of short stories, Thomas McGuane isolates this moment, and exploits it to its fullest literary potential. McGuane has become our poet-philosopher of the arm’s length, of the prudently aborted intimacy that keeps both isolation and commitment equally at bay.
The New York Times
McGuane returns to the territories of his novels (Some Horses, etc.) in this collection of stories set in Montana, Michigan and Florida. Most of the characters are older, divorced and still looking for attachment but without much hope of love. They are alcoholics (in "Vicious Circle" and "The Refugee"), junkies ("Northcoast"), low-grade ex-cons ("The Cowboy"), embezzlers ("Old Friends"), disconnected fathers ("The Zombie" and "Aliens") and lackluster ordinary men. In the title story, an unnamed smalltimer sets out on a business trip down the winding Gallatin Canyon, Mont., road with his girlfriend, Louise. He conducts his business dealings with phony bluster and indecision, humiliating himself in the eyes of this woman he hopes to marry; things get worse from there. Any attempts these characters make to draw happiness back into their lives backfires clumsily, pushing it further from their grasp. McGuane's sentences still have a playful quality, but the prevailing dreariness ("I wish I could feel something," exclaims Louise) is something other than inspiring. (July 11) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
McGuane's reputation is based on his early novels, including The Bushwhacked Piano (1971) and Panama (1978). More recently he has also become an accomplished essayist, but this new collection of stories suggests that short fiction may be his true calling. Most of these tales depict desperate men well past their midlife crises. They have mastered various skills but have little control over their daily lives. In "The Zombie," a prosperous bank president hires a prostitute for his couch potato son, with disastrous results. In "Aliens," a retired Boston lawyer returns home to Montana only to find himself jinxed by family ties. In "The Refugee," an alcoholic veteran of Key West's countercultural Conch Republic seeks redemption. In this story in particular, McGuane fully lives up to the Hemingwayesque tag that is often attached to his name, achieving brilliant effects with nautical jargon. The title story, which first appeared in The New Yorker and later in The Best American Short Stories, 2004, reduces the fabled Big Sky country to a handful of marketing clich s. This impressive collection will appeal to fans of Robert Stone's book Bear and His Daughter. Highly recommended.-Edward B. St. John, Loyola Law Sch. Lib., Los Angeles Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
A writer renowned for his evocation of the wide-open spaces of the American West (his native Montana in particular) here explores a rewarding range of both geographical and thematic terrain within his second collection (after Nothing But Blue Skies, 1992). Throughout these ten stories of place and displacement by novelist McGuane (The Cadence of Grass, 2002, etc.), geography forges character and character shapes destiny. It's a reflection of his consummate command that his fiction can be simultaneously so funny and so bleak. Whether he's writing in the first or third person (with both narrative approaches prevalent here), his characters contend with minor frustrations and everyday absurdities within lives that just might be pointless, inconsequential beneath the big sky. His settings extend from the West to New England (in both "Aliens" and the concluding title story, the culture clash between Montana and Boston proves crucial) and from the Great Lakes to Key West. As the collection's penultimate story, "The Refugee" is the longest (comprising more than a quarter of the volume's pages) and perhaps the most ambitious, reflecting the mind of a suicidal alcoholic who tries to find some semblance of stability on the sea, attempts to come to terms with his role in the death of a friend who had betrayed him (was it an accident or murder?) and ultimately finds himself both marooned and returned to some sort of Eden. Among the other standouts, "Miracle Boy" conjures the slapstick of mourning within the mysteries of family; "Old Friends" details the inertia of the relationship between life-long friends who have never really liked each other; "Ice" finds a man reminiscing about his Midwesternboyhood, in a coming-of-age story that stirs sexual awakening and intimations of mortality; and the darkly comic "The Zombie" relates the tale of a banker's son determined to retain his virginity and the escort hired by his father to seduce him. Wherever these stories take the reader, the tone is quintessential McGuane.
"Tremendous. . . . [McGuane] evokes characters so vivid and universally pained that they'll keep you up at night." —The Philadelphia Inquirer
“Astonishing. . . . [McGuane] knows something about writing, real writing–which is to say, words as access to the soul. . . . McGuane has driven so hard into the heart of a received wisdom concerning American manhood . . . that he has broken through to the other side.” —The New York Times Book Review
"McGuane is a master. . . . To see the world through the eyes of his characters . . . is to feel unsettled, precarious, and yet certain . . . of one thing: change. . . . [He] turns each story into a kind of pressure cooker." —Los Angeles Times