Chester Hunnicut Pomeroy, a washed-up rock star, returns home to Key West and tries to win back the good graces of his love, Catherine. His memories a...moreChester Hunnicut Pomeroy, a washed-up rock star, returns home to Key West and tries to win back the good graces of his love, Catherine. His memories are fragmented and the local cops have it in for him. And although he wants to make good, he just can't stop being himself.
Panama is McGuane's only novel written in the first person, and marks a break between his early novels (The Sporting Club, The Bushwhacked Piano, 92 in the Shade) and his Montana novels. Its overall critical reception wasn't warm; McGuane was known for living a wild life, and this novel was perceived as a self-serving, autobiographical apologia. Besides, he'd gone to Hollywood, and the literary establishment doesn't approve of Hollywood.
The poor reviews weren't justified. Set aside Hollywood and autobiography, and Panama emerges as one of McGuane's best. The writing sparkles, and Pomeroy is a funny and sympathetic figure despite his myriad faults. McGuane has said that, after 92 in the Shade, he felt that the flash in his writing had obscured the seriousness of his intent, and consequently he set out to write more seriously. In Panama, McGuane ceases to be a smart-aleck, and sets off in a new direction, with brilliant results.(less)
Former tank captain Patrick Fitzpatrick returns from Germany to run the family ranch with his grandfather. His father is dead, and his sister is a vic...moreFormer tank captain Patrick Fitzpatrick returns from Germany to run the family ranch with his grandfather. His father is dead, and his sister is a victim of the family's apparent hereditary mental illness. Fitzpatrick himself is an alcoholic who suffers from "sadness for no reason." He seems to have no raison d'etre, until he falls in love -- but the object of his affection just happens to be married.
The first of McGuane's novels set in Montana, Nobody's Angel is quieter and more rueful than anything that preceded it. His prose fireworks aren't entirely gone, but they're much diminished. Gone is the comedy. Nobody's Angel is perhaps his bleakest work.
It also stands as one of his best. Although some readers will be put off by the novel's pessimistic tone, Fitzpatrick emerges as a sympathetic figure. The characters are sharply drawn, the writing is flawless, and the conclusion devastating -- McGuane's writing here has, for the first time, real emotional depth. This remains among my favourite McGuane novels, even if it is his least optimistic.(less)
Frank Bascombe, a failed novelist turned sportswriter, drifts through his New Jersey days in the aftermath of the death of his son and his ensuing div...moreFrank Bascombe, a failed novelist turned sportswriter, drifts through his New Jersey days in the aftermath of the death of his son and his ensuing divorce. Yet this is no tale of suburban disenchantment; Frank is an optimist. And this is the feature that makes the sportswriter unique. Rather than lapsing into the tired and conventional pose of suburban cynicism, Richard Ford chooses to show us a man who is happy, or who believes that he is.
Fiction, in the simplistic formulae of creative writing teachers, begins with a character who has a problem. Frank does not appear to have a problem. His son may be dead, his wife may have left them, and he may be afflicted with what he calls "dreaminess," but overall, Frank believes that life is good. The tension in The Sportswriter comes not from external forces that pit the protagonist against the world, but from the unstated internal conflicts of Frank himself.
Frank does have problems, but he's not about to admit it. Why does this man, who appears to be happy with his life, repeatedly find himself parked in the darkened street outside his ex-wife's home? Why is he unable to refer to his wife by name, instead calling her only "X"?
As a narrator, Frank Bascombe is fascinating. This is not an unreliable narrator in the conventional sense, in which we expect that the narrator is not being entirely truthful with us; this is a far more sophisticated unreliable narrator, who appears always to be truthful with the reader, but seems not to be able to tell the truth to himself.
Frank's happiness seems to be entirely superficial. In fact, there's a sense of superficiality to his entire narrative. Frank uses of expressions such as "dreaminess," "literalness," "factuality," and so on without ever explaining what he means by them, but their meaning should become clear in the effect of the narrative as a whole. In short, Frank's world does not seem entirely real. So powerful is the sense of dissociation in Richard Ford's narrative that one reviewer called this novel "uneventful"; this of a novel that, in the space of four days, sees Frank Bascombe lose his girlfriend, get punched in the face, resist the kiss of another man who subsequently commits suicide, and embark on a relationship with a woman half his age. Uneventful?
This is the genius of The Sportswriter. It is all about the narrator and the narrative. There is a reason that this book launched, or relaunched, Richard Ford's writing career: if the only obligation of literature is to be interesting, then this novel, and it's narrator, fulfills everything we could expect of it.(less)