three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
25-Nov-Dec-2006
user_rating: 
0

Stories

A-Gallatin CanyonIn ten stories set in Michigan, Florida, and Thomas McGuane’s trademark Big Sky Country, ordinary men light out in search of themselves and their destinies. In the title story, a businessman travels with his girlfriend down western Montana’s Gallatin River canyon until things go awry. "Cowboy" features an ex-con who becomes the object of a woman’s peculiar affections. The lonely widower in "Zombie" hires a prostitute to try to connect with his son. And in the novella "The Refugee," a guilt-ridden man in Key West attempts to rid himself of traumatic memories. The protagonists of each story, affected by the myth and reality of the landscape, try desperately to wrest control of their lives.
Knopf. 240 pages. $24. ISBN: 1400041562

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Bravura aside, a writer knows something about writing, real writing—which is to say, words as access to the soul posited as a binding reality—when the most devastating line in his book is ‘Are you with the termite people?’ … (Here, may I please break with reviewerly decorum and insist that you buy this book?)" Stephen Metcalf

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"Gallatin Canyon … is a corker, full of the emotional depth and love of language that makes McGuane stand out. … He’s always been a sharp observer of how America lives and works, precise in his observations and subtle in his ironies." Jeff Baker

San Francisco Chronicle 4 of 5 Stars
"‘The Refugee’ is a great sea story, and also a great ‘see’ story, because of its landscapes and seascapes, both inner and outer, with an ending that would make Conrad flinch. It will not warm your heart, but then if that’s what you wanted you wouldn’t have even begun reading a notice about a writer as gifted and acerbic as Thomas McGuane." Alan Cheuse

Houston Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Though the tone of the stories in Gallatin Canyon is bleak, there is still plenty of room for McGuane’s trademark sarcasm and general zaniness. … Gallatin Canyon is not prize-winning fiction, but it contains enough gems to satisfy the author’s many fans—and perhaps win over a few new ones." Tom Pilkington

Providence Journal 3.5 of 5 Stars
"McGuane has been dubbed a ‘writer’s writer’ and these stories show why: With perfect pitch and impressive technical skill, he presents a darkly comic vision of American men, usually a bit over-the-hill and burnt out, nostalgic for a time when hedonism didn’t hurt, now trying to escape into the freedom of some Wild West in their heads." Beth Taylor

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 3 of 5 Stars
"With hints of Robert Stone and Joseph Conrad peeking up here and there, McGuane crafts a moving account of a striving soul seeking its own route through a moral crisis. … There are wisdom, humor and a wry resignation in McGuane’s collection that will touch a nerve in most of his readers." Bob Hoover

Critical Summary

Thomas McGuane has been praised for his remarkable writing style, emotional depth, and close observations about the American West. This collection, full of edgy wit, irony, and bleak characters, received the same acclaim as his previous works, but critics agree that some stories are better than others. "Miracle Boy" and "The Refugee" are complex and compelling, while "The Zombie" feels like filler. In fact, though reviewers agree that McGuane deserves a wider readership, this collection might not touch a nerve with everyone. "He’s thought of as a writer of manly-man reticence in the school of Hemingway," notes the New York Times Book Review, "beautified with dashes of Big Sky coloring" and masculine themes.