Thomas McGuane | Critical Essay by David Streitfield

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Thomas McGuane.
This section contains 830 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by David Streitfield

Critical Essay by David Streitfield

SOURCE: "McGuane Mellows," in Washington Post Book World, Vol. XXII, No. 43, October 25, 1992, p. 15.

In the following essay, Streitfield discusses McGuane's current lifestyle on his Montana ranch with his wife and children, contrasting it with his long-time reputation as a drinker and womanizer.

Sometime in the past couple of years, Tom McGuane completed the transition from aging Bad Boy to youngish Grand Old Man. You can chart the transition by looking, first, at the back of his old 1978 novel, Panama: It's a photo of McGuane at the tiller of a boat, long hair askew, hunting for something, looking manic. Then examine the back of his latest, Nothing But Blue Skies. There the 52-year-old author is at rest, head propped on his arm. It's a portrait of a mature rancher in his Sunday best.

Panama was, as it happens, a key book for McGuane, the end of his early period. He had written three other novels by then—The Sporting Club, The Bushwhacked Piano and Ninety-Two in the Shade—three hat tricks that won him considerable fame in the early '70s.

The celebrity culture in this country was then still in its infancy, which was a good thing: A little more attention and McGuane might have been destroyed as a writer. As it was, his exploits with various women—actresses Elizabeth Ashley and Margot Kidder, for two—and taste for hijinks made for sensational copy.

"I had vivid good times then, and still do in other ways. But I'm not as newsworthy," says the writer. The reality never quite matched the reputation anyway. "I got a lot of work done then I was writing all day everyday as I've been doing since I was a teenager.

"I had a spell of really being out in the streets, but I thought I noticed everybody else was out there, too," says McGuane. "I've never been that bold differentiating myself from the quotidian. It was just what everybody was doing, everyone I knew. Admittedly, I wasn't in Cleveland…. There was this thing called 'hanging out.' People don't really do that anymore, but then it was an official activity."

McGuane long ago got tired of talking about his past. For a while, it seemed all anyone wanted to know about. "I've been married to my wife for 16 years, and no one ever asks about her," he comments. "They want to pry about my eẋwife [Kidder], women I used to go out with. My poor old wife is never even inquired about."

So how is Laurie, anyway?

"She's fine."

Middle-period McGuane—four novels published over the last decade—takes place in the state he's been living in for the last two decades, Montana. "This has been a good milieu to a point," he says. "Sometimes I wish we had greater diversity of people where I live. Everyone's so laconic up there. When you get out, it seems pretty exciting because people are so wound up."

Why are they so quiet?

"They don't have conversational skills. It's not a valued thing. In fact, they're very suspicious of people who talk much. That's a problem for people who go out West from town to town with some new plan. The locals see some yammering guy from the East Coast and they're immediately suspicious."

Which must mean they're suspicious of writers, too.

"Yeah. They certainly don't think it's a real job. I'm always making excuses."

Montana, like most everywhere in the West, is the scene of a fair amount of environmental combat these days. McGuane has joined the fray, both in fiction (a key character in Nothing But Blue Skies wants to prevent all the rivers from leaving the state) and in real life. He's a member of the board of American Rivers, a D.C.-based organization dedicated to the wild and scenic rivers system as well as urban rivers, and to the preservation of riverine species.

"Aquatic species are crashing at much deeper rate than nonaquatic species. Rivers are really collecting all the bad things we're doing and intensifying them. It seems to be a real good place to focus on environmental issues. Plus, I'm just a river lover."

Nothing But Blue Skies is less, however, about the environment than an older war—the one between the sexes. The hero is a familiar McGuane type, a guy who can't co-exist with women and won't live without them.

"I don't think this relationship has ever been stable," McGuane says. "Certainly not in my experience, or my parents' or my aunts' or uncles'. It's always very charged. There are so few complacent relationships between lovers on any level—and if there were, they'd be inappropriate for fiction. Fiction is not about stability."

McGuane notes that "I have friends whose love lives are excruciatingly entropic. They're like people that have a vintage Jaguar that never really runs—it's a pretty idea, but you can't get to the store in it. They're always trying to fix these relationships, or being counseled, or trying separation, or trying a vacation. There doesn't seem to be any yield without a tremendous amount of energy input."

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This section contains 830 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Essay by David Streitfield
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