Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Midlife Misery in Cow Country

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Midlife Misery in Cow Country

Article excerpt

NOTHING BUT BLUE SKIES By Thomas McGuane, Houghton Mifflin/ Seymour Lawrence, 349 pp., $21.95.

THOMAS MCGUANE writes like a dream ... in a nightmarish world.

His characters are deep, real, funny, and intelligent. Their dialogue is sharp and sweet, clever (in the best sense) without being contrived. They move in a landscape of rich detail, in town and out, following a trout stream.

They are also desperate and at times out of control. Not out of McGuane's control but their own, on paths of painful discovery often verging on the self-destructive.

It is a path McGuane himself acknowledges having followed, before he stabilized into writing and ranching in Montana, which is no doubt why he reads so well the current manifestation of men's search for balance between action and intellect.

"Nothing But Blue Skies" centers on Frank Copenhaver, a successful, middle-aged entrepreneur in Montana real estate and cattle, who has managed to disprove his disapproving father's prediction that he would never rise above his carousing youth.

It's all falling apart now, starting with his marriage, and he's beginning to feel "that something inside had come completely undone." He chatters on about adjustable mortgages and arbitrage stock selling as he drives his wife of 20 years to the airport for the last time.

Alone now, his business begins to go to pot. His friends and brother are concerned but unable to stop his descent into desperate sex and alcohol-fueled craziness, which accelerate the spiral. "I have underestimated what a delicate thing life really is," he tells a woman friend.

It's not what he wants, and he moves on through the dream looking for solace and answers. He thinks the steadying rock in this turbulent flow is his college-student daughter, whom he has taught to fly-fish expertly. There is a day of heartbreaking father-child intimacy and love at a favorite trout stream in the Gallatin Valley with this sweet, strong, and wryly funny young woman:

" `The only things that undermine my happiness are things I can't lay hands on,' {he tells his daughter}.

`Like what?' said Holly.

`Oh, I don't know.'

`Just give me an example. …

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