Novelist and essay-writer McGuane (Nothing But Blue Skies, 1992; The Longest Silence, 1999; etc.) assembles a large cast for a small but satisfying story about crazies, their keepers, and their victims in his beloved and beguiling Montana.
Through his nastily manipulative last will and testament, the late Sunny Jim Whitelaw continues to torment the family he drove round the bend. In order to cash out of the pop-bottling business Jim’s son-in-law Paul Crusoe is speedily running into the ground, Whitelaw’s will requires his hard-riding daughter Evelyn to end her separation from the sexy but wildly unsteady Paul. Failing that reconciliation, the heirs will all be required to live off the shrinking soda-pop profits that Paul seems hell-bent on eliminating altogether. There is considerable pressure on Evelyn from sister Natalie, who needs plenty of cash if she is to shuck her nerdy but managerially competent husband Stuart, and from Jim’s widow Alice, who wants to go on an Alaskan cruise and then live a nice life now that her tomcatting husband is safely buried. But Evelyn is already leading a nice life, thank you. Regardless of her marriage, the will cuts her into her father’s ranch where she takes lessons in horsemanship, cattle management, and rustic stoicism from manager and WWII sailor Bill Champion. And, no matter how good in bed Paul may be, Evelyn sees no point in taking back a man who is carrying on with his probate officer. Paul’s probation follows a term in the state pen awarded for manslaughter when a drunk Sunny Jim ran into a motorcyclist and Paul politely took the rap, even though his father-in-law had stolen his kidney. These awfully stretched story lines wander perilously close to Florida baroque, but McGuane always knows when to back off and bring in the horses, snow, scenery, and brief moments of sanity to show the real and deeply appealing selves of Evelyn and her manly rancher role model Bill and all that excellent Big Sky country.
Exhilarating: like a good run in bad weather.