KEEP THE CHANGE by Thomas McGuane


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McGuane isn't one of those writers you read for surprising developments: his disillusioned heroes' savvy, indulgent anomie has been his trademark since The Bushwhacked Piano and Ninety-Two in the Shade. But this tale of flip, scared Joe Starling looking for his roots on a Montana ranch shows McGuane taking new chances, even if they don't always pay off. Joe's life in Key West could have been dashed off by a McGuane imitator--we hear about his ""uncompliant"" lover Astrid, whom he first met when she was disguised as a hood ornament (""When they danced, he got gold paint on his clothes""); his rejection of painting in favor of illustrating operating manuals for electrical appliances (Joe imagines he's ""working for a single prosperous family, five painfully stupid yet happy people who wanted to be able to run this worthless shit they'd paid good money for""); his intimate dislike of his partner Ivan Slater, who dreams of making millions by marketing a home lie-detector. But this familiar sniping is ballasted by a prologue in which we see Joe forming an unlikely attachment to a ranch his banker father's foreclosed on, let him work, and then left to Joe's Aunt Lureen to turn over to him. When Joe's reached the plateau of self-loathing characteristic of McGuane's heroes, he lights out for the ranch in Astrid's pink convertible, only to find that the reality he's searching for in the soil (""Joe ached with meaning,"" McGuane writes of his youthful fumblings with Ellen Overstreet, daughter of the rancher who's after Joe's land) is just as absurdly inconsequential as a weekend at the Yale Club, that ""yuppie Brigadoon."" Caught between Ellen's and Astrid's world, haunted by the ghost of his universally hated father and the living specter of his scheming Uncle Smitty, Joe ends up giving the spread to his childhood friend-enemy Billy Kelton, Ellen's husband, but not before a season managing and working the ranch has given Joe an untidy completeness. The mixture of modes--Hemingway, Huckleberry Finn, Places in the Heart--is sometimes embarrassingly amateurish but finally tonic. This could be a privotal book for an author reaching outside the turf he's made his own.

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1989
ISBN: 0679730338
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin