Vintage Contemporaries, 1992
If a woman had developed the main character, Frank Copenhaver, she may have been pilloried. On the first page he sends his cheating wife back to her childhood home and finds himself plunged into the usual smelly laundry basket of emotions. His initial self-obsession, unsupported by self-reflection resulted in an intelligent, out-of-control man about to be divorced who soothes himself with drink, women, careless brushes with the law and neglecting his business. He was a trite Thanksgiving grocery list of stereotypical behavior that was equally boring and entertaining.
Then out of nowhere there is a description of he and his brother making the end of life decision for their dying mother. Its written in clear easy language with little fanfare. Another writer would have choked that scene for every piece of angst he could squeeze.
Instead, the reader is easily returned to a dry discussion of insurance claims adjusters. The novel recites life as practiced in the technology of twenty years ago with computers still grounded to desks and slides for presenting photos. But human inner life has not changed no matter how drastically background has. So there is much said about the loneliness of life and disruption of beliefs when we are agonizing a loss.
I was near wondering if it was a book I cared about finishing when he had an observation I appreciated. “If I knew that much about anything, Frank thought, I wouldn’t be nice to anyone. But I’m so ignorant I have to go on treating people decently.” About then I started to get it. McGuane seemed to be describing in Frank the impenetrable brass wall people too often put up between their deeper thoughts and what they mean to protect them against the world at large and worse, the people they claim to love.
McGuane’s language is engaging, his descriptions breezily contemporary and often humorous. When his wife asks for a meeting to promote “clean wounds so that the healing process can begin,” he answers the healing process, “…always leads into a discussion of some unbelievably tedious ‘inner journey.’ The messages of my formative years all came from Little Richard, who has never soiled himself with an inner journey.” Simultaneously humorous and trite, that’s exactly what he begins to do in his tumbled private thoughts.
Because it doesn’t take place in New York, Los Angeles or Chicago it is labeled as belonging to life in the western landscape, but I think if Woody Allen had ever strayed far enough from home to visit Montana, he and McGuane could have bridged the literary Continental Divide.