A career-spanning collection of short stories from McGuane, who’s observed America’s outskirts with equal measures of pathos and humor.
This gathers McGuane’s three previous books of stories (To Skin a Cat, 1986; Gallatin Canyon, 2006; Crow Fair, 2015) and adds eight uncollected tales, cementing his reputation as a keen writer on underexplored territories, especially Big Sky Country, rural Northern California, and Key West. Putting all these stories in one place also spotlights the evolution of his prose over time. In his early stories, he could pull off a Cheever-esque domestic drama like “The Millionaire,” about a family secreting away their pregnant teenage daughter at a summer home, but more often delivered strained yarns constructed around easy symbolic conflicts, like “A Skirmish,” a tale of childhood bullying involving Civil War caps, or the travails of overly flirty men, as in “Partners” or “Like a Leaf.” The newer stories, by contrast, are at once sturdier and more sensitive, especially “Kangaroo,” about a recidivist parolee gathering his late mother’s ashes and the parole officer chasing him down, or “The Driver,” about a child who’s an unwitting victim of his mother’s neglect. But grown-up relationships, both romantic and platonic, are his consistent focus: the epic Gallatin Canyon story “The Refugee” features a man sailing to Key West to expunge his brain of a lost love and a dead friend; a new story, “Papaya,” describes an abusive relationship he was in. Like McGuane's contemporaries Jim Harrison and Richard Ford, masculinity is much on his mind, but he’s not much for machismo: the narrator of “Little Bighorn” recalls a busted relationship as a young man with self-deprecating humor, while in “Tango,” a doctor remembers his early struggle to connect with a woman and the tragic consequences of their failure to communicate.
A stellar writer on the outdoors who’s gotten better at describing interior wildernesses over time.