Thomas McGuane | Critical Review by Robert M. Adams

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Thomas McGuane.
This section contains 695 words
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Critical Review by Robert M. Adams

SOURCE: "Cornering the Market," in New York Review of Books, Vol. 39, No. 20, December 3, 1992, pp. 14-16.

In the following review, Adams gives Nothing But Blue Skies an unfavorable review, saying its similarity to McGuane's previous stories renders it unmemorable.

Thomas McGuane is mainly from Montana and has written, over the last twenty years, more than seven novels and several books of short stories set against this background. These are not cowboy-and-Indian novels, nor are they set in the familiar mean streets of the desert metropolis. The center of McGuane's universe is the good-sized town or small city of Deadrock, Montana, and his theme is the aching problem of the American male, what to do with himself. Perhaps it is McGuane's misfortune that he has written so many books, because after four or five the generic familiarity of the plots and the similarities of the heroes become very evident. McGuane's prose is swift and sharp, often belligerent. He can be very funny and also deeply disgusting. But he does write in a recognizable manner of speech.

McGuane's hero tends to be a self-conscious actor and rather proud of his reputation as a bad boy. The first novel, which set a pattern for many of the later ones, was titled The Bushwhacked Piano. It followed the adventures of one Nicholas Payne, whose devotion to Ann Fitzgerald led him to break into her parents' house, and then to put forward a scheme for building outsized beehives that no one wanted. (A major aim of the people who invested in it was to get rid of the troublesome builder as quickly as possible.) These hilarious activities are interrupted by a major operation for hemorrhoids, described in painful detail. The novel Something to be Desired is similarly slam-bang, with the main character, Lucien Taylor, hung up between two girls, one with powerful impulses to homicide. He solves his problems by getting rid of both—which leaves the reader in doubt about his attachment in the first place to either. What they think of him as they depart we are not given to know. I have not found McGuane's tales various enough to be particularly memorable. Very often his narrative dashes from episode to episode, and the reader is as likely to wince at the end as to laugh.

The latest volume, Nothing But Blue Skies, deals with an older but still unsettled version of Nicholas Payne or Lucien Taylor. Frank Copenhaver rattles in much the same way as his predecessors around the dusty streets of Deadrock, Montana. He is a man of miscellaneous business interests, who has acquired by his middle years a string of assorted enterprises, such as a hotel, a medical clinic, a ranch and some cattle, as well as a mixed bag of stock-market holdings. He has a grown daughter in the state university at Missoula and a wife, Gracie, who, as the story opens, has just left him. This recent breakup of his marriage has left Frank in a particularly truculent and touchy, as well as a randy, mood. He picks fights with cowboys and gets thrown for a time into jail. He drinks to excess; he smashes up a lot of earth-moving equipment in a midnight fight on a backcountry road. He also manages to copulate with a goodly number of women he picks up, near and around Deadrock, Montana. The more of these diversions he indulges in, the more deeply his business affairs sink into disorder.

In other words, Frank Copenhaver appears to be suffering from a standard case of middle-aged jealousy based largely on a standard case of middle-class egocentricity. None of the people of Deadrock is particularly complex psychologically, but as the story works out, it appears that Frank had been using his multiple business interests to hold off his wife's efforts at intimacy. Meanwhile their daughter, sensing her parents' growing estrangement, had feigned interest in a loathsome suitor whom she knew her parents would unite in despising. Her calculations prove exactly right. The suitor is dispatched, her parents clinch. Too bad if it sounds like a plot put together with an Erector Set, but that's what it reads like.

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This section contains 695 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Robert M. Adams
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