I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Connoisseur of Foolishness

Connoisseur of Foolishness

Kevin Stevens
Cloudbursts: Collected and New Stories, Thomas McGuane, Knopf, 576 pp, $35.00, ISBN: 978-0385350211 For almost half a century, Tom McGuane’s novels and short stories have given us a profound, personal and evolving view of the American scene. His deep disaffection for self-indulgence and for what one of his characters calls “the escalating boredom of life in the monoculture” is balanced by an almost mystical bond with the natural world and an essential sympathy for the flaws of ordinary people trying to negotiate the obstacles of an American life. He is a master of describing the environments we inhabit and our odd behaviours as we inhabit them. His unmatched comic flair is revealed in elegant sentences that sound both offhand and carefully crafted. And he can be delightfully subversive. McGuane brings to his writing the accomplishments of a renaissance man. Since the 1960s he has owned and run a working ranch. He is a businessman, a hunter, a conservationist, a member of the National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame (cutting is a highly stylised ritual in which a horse and rider separate a cow from the herd), and a recipient of a Heritage Award from the American Museum of Fly Fishing, that organisation’s highest honour. What’s more, he writes about these passions better than anyone. His essays on fishing and horses – collected in his books The Longest Silence and Some Horses – are lyrical accounts of nature ballasted with exact and fitting detail of craft. I’m in no position to judge how good an angler or horseman McGuane is, but I’ve known for a long time that he is a fine writer. In the 1970s, as a baffled undergraduate at University College Dublin recently transplanted from my native Montana, I drew psychic sustenance from his novels and those of other young, irreverent American writers such as Thomas Pynchon, Robert Coover, and John Barth. These men wrote books that were raucous, cartoonlike, and Rabelaisian. They relished outlandish language and provocative stories. I especially liked McGuane’s 1973 novel Ninety-two in the Shade, which opens with one of the best first sentences in fiction: “Nobody knows, from sea to shining sea, why we are having all this trouble with our republic.” These were the waning years of Nixon’s reign, and McGuane’s outsized, boisterous take on the bloating of America was a welcome antidote to the slippery politics of the time. I was also piqued by rumours that…

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