Thomas McGuane | Critical Review by Gregory McNamee

This literature criticism consists of approximately 3 pages of analysis & critique of Thomas McGuane.
This section contains 721 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Gregory McNamee

SOURCE: "The Spirit of the American West," in Bloomsbury Review, Vol. 13, No. 4, July-August, 1993, p. 14.

In the following favorable review of Nothing But Blue Skies, McNamee describes McGuane's novel as "a well-considered study of a man confronting mid-life crisis, and, in the end, overcoming it by sheer force of will."

Thomas McGuane has consciously carved out a niche in American literary history as our contemporary Hemingway, which includes tracing the old man's footsteps from place to place and adopting some of his poses: sports fisherman, footloose journalist. In the sixties and seventies he was associated with Key West, another Hemingway haunt, where McGuane kept a house and produced his earliest novels. He had a reputation as a hell-raiser then, seeking to match his distinguished literary ancestor drink for drink, book for book, spouse for spouse.

Twenty years have since passed, and McGuane has mellowed. He now lives on a ranch in the Paradise Valley of western Montana, where he devotes his time to raising cattle, reading, and writing. A mature man in his mid-50s, McGuane has abandoned most of his youthful pursuits, and his roman à clef Nothing But Blue Skies shows it.

Frank Copenhaver, the lonely hero—or antihero—of the novel, is a sorry sight to behold. He is lost on that great sea of grass verging on Montana's western mountains near Livingston, where his creator just happens to live. Montana may be the very definition of wide open spaces, but for Frank Copenhaver its vastness more and more resembles a prison with each passing day.

Copenhaver's world is unraveling before his eyes. He is well into his 50s, and the years aren't treating him well. His marriage of many years is imploding; as the novel opens his wife, Gracie, who runs a Cajun restaurant called Amazing Grease, is preparing to leave him for parts unknown. His neo-hippie daughter is dating a man his own age. Copenhaver has taken to driving down back roads screaming, "My empire is falling!" He has also lost connection to the world. A lover of fishing and wilderness, like any true Montanan, he spends his days and nights indoors, making business deals, sending faxes, and poring over The Wall Street Journal. All for naught, because—of course—his contracting business is falling to pieces along with the rest of his universe.

How Copenhaver extricates himself from the mess he's made of his life is the meat of McGuane's story. A fully fleshed, believable character, he makes a botch of nearly every attempt, as we all do. He picks barroom fights with big cowboys, taunts local politicians with cries of "fascist," and generally does things just the way he knows he should not. By twists and turns McGuane allows Copenhaver to grope his way to something approaching a happy ending, but not without major pratfalls.

Nothing But Blue Skies is appealing on any number of fronts, certainly more so than McGuane's last novel, Something to Be Desired. An especially fine touch is McGuane's respectful treatment of his women characters, another welcome sign of maturity. Copenhaver's wife is thoroughly likable, and he shows no rancor toward her for abandoning him. He has plenty of likable women friends as well, true friends and not mere objects of desire. The most intellectually attractive of them, June, isn't at all "astonished to find out that life was a fight," as the narrator observes. "So her feistiness lacked the indignation, the bruised quality, that gave relationships between men and women these days their peculiar smelliness."

McGuane's new novel is no tour de force, unlike his early novels: Panama, The Sporting Club, and Ninety-Two in the Shade. Youthfully exuberant and cocky, these books made his reputation and earned him those comparisons to Hemingway in the first place. Nothing But Blue Skies is, however, a well-considered study of a man confronting midlife crisis and, in the end, overcoming it by sheer force of will. (In that regard it beats Robert Bly's weepy Iron John by a long shot. Frank Copenhaver despises poppsych solutions, remarking "I'm much too old for that sort of thing. The messages of my formative years all came from Little Richard, who never soiled himself with an inner journey.")

Ironic, precise, and in full command of his language, Tom McGuane delivers sharp observations on our deteriorating world, and his new novel is well worth reading.

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This section contains 721 words
(approx. 3 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Gregory McNamee
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