A stellar writer on the outdoors who’s gotten better at describing interior wildernesses over time.

CLOUDBURSTS

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.

Pub Date: March 8, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-385-35021-1

Page Count: 576

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Dec. 12, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2018

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Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

THE HANDMAID'S TALE

The time is the not-so-distant future, when the US's spiraling social freedoms have finally called down a reaction, an Iranian-style repressive "monotheocracy" calling itself the Republic of Gilead—a Bible-thumping, racist, capital-punishing, and misogynistic rule that would do away with pleasure altogether were it not for one thing: that the Gileadan women, pure and true (as opposed to all the nonbelieving women, those who've ever been adulterous or married more than once), are found rarely fertile.

Thus are drafted a whole class of "handmaids," whose function is to bear the children of the elite, to be fecund or else (else being certain death, sent out to be toxic-waste removers on outlying islands). The narrative frame for Atwood's dystopian vision is the hopeless private testimony of one of these surrogate mothers, Offred ("of" plus the name of her male protector). Lying cradled by the body of the barren wife, being meanwhile serviced by the husband, Offred's "ceremony" must be successful—if she does not want to join the ranks of the other disappeared (which include her mother, her husband—dead—and small daughter, all taken away during the years of revolt). One Of her only human conduits is a gradually developing affair with her master's chauffeur—something that's balanced more than offset, though, by the master's hypocritically un-Puritan use of her as a kind of B-girl at private parties held by the ruling men in a spirit of nostalgia and lust. This latter relationship, edging into real need (the master's), is very effectively done; it highlights the handmaid's (read Everywoman's) eternal exploitation, profane or sacred ("We are two-legged wombs, that's all: sacred vessels, ambulatory chalices"). Atwood, to her credit, creates a chillingly specific, imaginable night-mare. The book is short on characterization—this is Atwood, never a warm writer, at her steeliest—and long on cynicism—it's got none of the human credibility of a work such as Walker Percy's Love In The Ruins. But the scariness is visceral, a world that's like a dangerous and even fatal grid, an electrified fence.

Tinny perhaps, but still a minutely rendered and impressively steady feminist vision of apocalypse.

Pub Date: Feb. 17, 1985

ISBN: 038549081X

Page Count: -

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: Sept. 16, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 1985

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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