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50-Jan-Feb-2011
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A-Driving on the RimThe author of nine novels, two short story collections, and three works of nonfiction, Thomas McGuane, now 70, has enjoyed an illustrious career spanning more than 40 years. Reviewed: Gallatin Canyon ( 3.5 of 5 Stars Nov/Dec 2006).

The Story: The life of small-town doctor Irving Berlin Pickett, named after the composer of "God Bless America" by a devout and patriotic mother, has started to unravel. Criminally implicated in the death of a patient, Berl surveys his past and the way it has shaped the present: his conventional childhood with careless, nomadic parents; his sexual awakening at age 14 with a much-older aunt; and Dr. Eldon Olsson--the man who took him under his wing, introduced him to the splendor of the rugged Montana landscape, and eventually put him through medical school. As Berl sifts through the wreckage of his career, his fumbling attempts to understand the world may yet be his salvation.
Knopf. 306 pages. $26.95. ISBN: 9781400041558

Boston Globe 4 of 5 Stars
"Driving on the Rim shows McGuane at his best, expertly quilting together the sacred and the profane, the comic and the tragic. ... Few writers have such a deft touch with language and Driving on the Rim should be read aloud and savored." William McKeen

Los Angeles Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Dry as a bone, continually surprised (and delighted) by humanity. This is what makes Berl so memorable and Driving on the Rim such a pleasure to read. ... It's uplifting to think that an author can dive this far into human nature and come out smiling." Susan Salter Reynolds

Seattle Times 4 of 5 Stars
"Thomas 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. ... The results here are a mixture of picaresque narrative and a deep love for the environment." Valerie Ryan

Washington Post 4 of 5 Stars
"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. ... A writer this shambling and episodic runs the risk of being dismissed as nothing more than a tall tale-teller yoked to a set of verbal tics, but McGuane's literary effects are much trickier to achieve than they seem." Michael Lindgren

Denver Post 3.5 of 5 Stars
"The book is linear only in the sense that the nominal plot moves forward while constantly looping back on itself. Which is not to say the novel isn't entertaining." William Porter

NY Times Book Review 3.5 of 5 Stars
"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. ... McGuane's characters are always keenly written, and that makes it bewildering when continuity falters and the illusion that they're real people falls apart." Maile Meloy

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Some might say Thomas McGuane ran out of gas capping this twisty fiction. I say he brought Berl down to peaceful earth; it was about time, and it's satisfying." Carlo Wolff

Critical Summary

Incisive and droll, this picaresque comedy delighted the critics with its exceptional prose, quirky, well-developed characters, and sharp insights into modern-day life. McGuane may infuse this serious exploration of contemporary moral questions with witty observations and deadpan one-liners, but as a mature and confident novelist, he is careful not to dull the edges of his inquiries. A few critics had reservations, including a meandering plot and some discontinuities in characters and timelines. However, all agreed that these minor complaints paled in comparison to McGuane's many gifts. Powerful and entertaining, Driving on the Rim is, according to most critics, "McGuane at his best" (Boston Globe).