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The Bushwhacked Piano

3.73  ·  Rating details ·  756 ratings  ·  61 reviews

(1) A bona-fide American freak tooling across country in a green Hudson Hornet hotly pursuing (2) a darling little millionairess who thirsts for "real experience" (3) teamed up with a double amputee, the world's fastest talking con man with a scheme to build bat towers for day-glo bats that can rid any area of insects "practically overnight." And you'll understand
Paperback, 228 pages
Published September 12th 1984 by Vintage (first published 1971)
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Average rating 3.73  · 
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Jeff Jackson
Jun 15, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: book-club-2
Dizzying and often hilarious, The Bushwhacked Piano veers between Schopenhauer and slapstick, vintage cinema slang and literary send-ups, with barely a breath to catch. On the sentence level it's deeply impressive, Pynchon on laughing gas, and the wild set pieces revolving around bat towers, wig banks, rodeos, and peeping toms retain a madcap cartoon exhuberance. Not to mention a scene of hemorrhoid surgery that you won't forget no matter how hard you try.

The novel is partly a cultural dissecti
Sep 26, 2009 rated it it was ok
It's amazing how pointless my life seems when I'm trying to make myself read a book I don't like. Reading a really bad book can be kind of fun, as I like to mentally catalog all my complaints in preparation for writing a scathing review. But I didn't have that sense of purpose here. I just kept thinking, again and again, "what?"
I guess I just didn't get it. There were whole paragraphs and conversations that I couldn't connect to the story, and there were dozens of allusions that went way over my
Jul 01, 2019 rated it liked it
The last and only McGuane I read was back in July 1990. I remember it well since I was in Kentucky and my second daughter was born while reading. It was a hot summer, and I was a younger man, but I will never forget it. Perhaps I’ve changed, this book was quite experimental, cleverly conceived and no doubt unique for its time. It had notes of Hunter S. Thompson, Harry Crews, Barry Hannah and Jim Harrison. The protagonist, Nicholas Payne, is clearly disturbed and we get to know him through the ar ...more
Loyd Mcintosh
Jul 31, 2020 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Listen, I know Thomas McGuane was one of the "it" celebrity writers of his generation, and considered a "monstrous talent" according to the quote regarding McGuane on the back of the book cover, but I have to admit- I just don't get it. I want to get it. I tried to get it. But I just don't get it.
A few years ago I heard an interview with Rob Long, a veteran television comedy writer and producer (he worked on Cheers among others) and after speaking about his comedic influences - most of them fro
Daniel Polansky
A vagrant/poet/lunatic builds a bat house, woos a woman, gets into trouble. Something like if Charles Portis wrote Adventures of Augie March. Very funny, very sharp, the language is that sort of crooked which is a pleasure to unwind. I'd never heard of McGuane, which, based on this at least, is an injustice I feel keen to rectify. ...more
Feb 02, 2012 rated it liked it
McGuane is an interesting case. His 92 In the Shade was excellent in my opinion, but I think that book his peak in terms of displaying his talent. While the Sporting Club shows glimmers of brilliance, it does not really deliver, which is certainly acceptable for a first novel. Followed by 92, his sophomore effort is fantastic. With this, his third effort, you begin to see him overstepping his own bounds and while there are terrific moments (the chapter of him bull riding to impress his love is h ...more
Danita L
Sep 18, 2011 rated it it was amazing
The description given to this book is actually an abbreviated statement by William Hjortsberg:

"...makes me think of all four Marx brothers mounted on an attenuated bicycle, out of control the wrong way on a one-way street, against the mainstream of oncoming traffic; no hands, ma, and no brakes! Thomas McGuane can only be imitated. There's no one else around who come close enough for comparison." William Hjortsberg

It is full of wildly inventive tragicomic vision.
🐴 🍖
rara freakin' avis right here: a book compared to pynchon in reviews that actually has somewhat of a t-pynch thing going on. the painted bats... the hemorrhoid surgery... the prickly conversation at the boot store... the other reference point here for me is douglas woolf, if you stripped out all the amiability with lacquer thinner & replaced with an equal amt of irascibility. woulda made a heck of an altman film too. (research question: this and fear & loathing came out the same year... which wa ...more
Feb 26, 2011 rated it it was ok
The story of an eccentric wonder boy written by a real-life eccentric wonder boy who eventually got his act together, moved West, and wrote some wonderful essays about the outdoors. Beating up on this book is needless; I always considered it an accidentally successful piece of juvenilia rather than a sign of emerging literary talent. It's a Pynchon knock-off but way less charming than The Crying of Lot 49. I only review it here because McGuane's career trajectory reminds me so much of Jonathan S ...more
Rich Gamble
Aug 29, 2011 rated it it was ok
This is a really slow and laborious read - you need to be a walking dictionary to follow what’s going on, such is McGuanes insistence on being deliberately and unnecessarily verbose. I stuck with this the whole way through and its not all bad - the story of crazy dude Nick trying to win over his chick Anne’s folks and make a living building bat caves with some crazy amputee hick is passable. The two stars are for some really great and smartly humorous sentences McG drops in his yarn but these pu ...more
Jennifer Collins
Aug 27, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction
Quirky and busy, this is a novel that will either pull you in from the beginning or never quite catch your interest. Simply, it's rather what would happen if Dennis Johnson were to work at capturing the most mundane and unlikable of characters, and with a focus on the ordinary details rather than the spiritual or emotional ones which might engage a reader anyway. There are some interesting moments, to be sure, but nothing at all to really engage a reader in the future of the plot or the characte ...more
M.R. Dowsing
Jul 12, 2013 rated it really liked it
McGuane's style takes some getting used to and he has a penchant for using obscure words, but he's very clever, offbeat and funny. The style and lack of plot means this won't be for everyone, but for those who like their literature "out there", this is highly recommended - especially if you've ever wanted to read a detailed description of a hair-raising haemorrhoid operation, in which case this is definitely the book for you! ...more
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
McGuane is a very talented writer, with sentences and a vocabulary that are bound to impress even the most critical of readers. However, with his technical expertise comes a lack of compelling characterization or plot, making this novel nearly unreadable. After reading and enjoying Panama, I had high hopes for the remainder of McGuane's bibliography. This being my next stop, I am left highly disappointed. ...more
Feb 09, 2013 rated it really liked it
it is a sad story about a guy trying to find where he fits, but the writing is incredible. the words put me right on the page, right in the arena, right foot, left foot. i could not wait to tuen the page for what words i would see next. imagine floating down a river. easy, yet some bumps. 1971 220 pgs 9 other books to find
Kathleen (itpdx)
Mar 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Off beat humor, off the wall characters, perfect title
Courtney Brown
May 23, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2012
some really nice language, and it had me till the last 50 pages or so.
Hobart Mariner
May 11, 2021 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Aren LeBrun
Mar 29, 2021 rated it it was amazing
The Bushwhacked Piano reads somewhat like Pynchon, but the prose is easier to follow and the politics are less overt. McGuane is a masterful writer who comes up with inventive, stylish language on every page, and straddles the line between reality and farce without ever letting you know which mode dominates the narrative. The book essentially skewers the hollowness of the guiding systems of the American 20th century (politics, class, business, aesthetics, Protestantism, family values, etc.), all ...more
Feb 23, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Thomas McGuane knows his way around a sentence. Driven mainly by manic action, practiced insouciance and cool swagger, this rollicking novel follows Nicholas Payne on a journey through America circa 1970. With the energy of a beat poem, McGuane raises the sad sack American male to a vaulted and sympathetic place. While his characters rarely bear the remotest similarity to myself, they consistently reveal universal truths about the American male psyche that resonates with one’s sense of self.
Jul 19, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Aggressively clever writing in service of a relentlessly stupid plot.
Dan Hahn
May 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
If you to go to the keys you got to read this first to get a feel for what the keys were before it is what it is now. Just like Jimmy says... there's still some magic left in this tourist town. ...more
Sep 10, 2018 rated it liked it
Quirky. Timeless in that dated way. Sometimes pretty funny but never hilarious. Great for a plane ride. Good otherwise.
Lawrence Leporte
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites

The characters are caricatures, Ralph Steadman illustrations come to life. The protagonist is as mean and unpredictable as a sulky adolescent. Nearly everyone is a psycho- or sociopath. Kindness seldom occurs, and when it does it is as if by accident.

A multiple amputee tours the country in a motorhome looking to sell vast bat-towers to communities with insect problems, and a jar-headed ranch hand takes polaroids of a young woman's vulva from beneath the floorboards of a bathhouse. And yes, yes,
Jul 01, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
What a strange little book....

At times, I felt the characters undeveloped and the plot unconvincing, yet I was compelled to keep reading—no easy feat considering the book's ridiculously tight spine kept forcing its covers closed despite my endless attempts to pry it open!

This was my first time reading McGuane. I came across a number of his books in a used bookstore when their perfectly uniform Vintage Contemporaries spines caught my attention. I picked up a few for cheap and started with this on
Feb 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Who other than Thomas McGuane would have a climactic scene feature a hemorrhoidectomy? Who other than Thomas McGuane could include both the word "pismire" and the term "dirt chute" in the same book?

"The Bushwhacked Piano," his second novel, has one of the weaker McGuane protagonists: Nicholas Payne. The book stalls whenever the Fitzgerald family is involved (excluding the scene in which Edna Fitzgerald slashes Duke Fitzgerald with some ballpoint pens and protractor); and, like "The Cadence of G
Apr 03, 2013 rated it liked it
Not my favorite McGuane. To me, it reads like a first book and a preamble to Panama. You know how authors will work one concept over and over? I feel like this is McGuane's first attempt at "wild screwup makes good (or tries to make good)." For me, The Bushwhacked Piano lacked the depth and poignancy of Panama. The narrator of Panama knows how messed up he is and is trying to repair the damaged relationships he left in his wake; that's essentially the plot, and the book makes a point about resur ...more
Aug 03, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: fiction
at the opening: i was ENAMOURED with the quick-fire, delectably constructed visual moments and the way he draws the States in its actual glaze of weird-wonderful-horribleness:

"And California at first sight was the sorry, beautiful Golden West silliness and uproar of simplistic yellow hills with metal wind pumps, impossible highways to the brim of the earth, coastal cities, forests and pretty girls with their tails to the wind. A movie theatre in Sacramento played 'Mondo Freudo'. In Oakland, he
Feb 28, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
This slim book is for people who want to be wowed by imaginative use of the language. It's not for fans of the plainspoken story. Plot and character development are secondary to McGuane's desire to craft fantastical descriptions. Nicholas Payne travels West, then to the Florida Keys. He gets involved in a hairbrain business scheme to build a tower for bats to solve a mosquito problem. He also gets involved with Ann, who's not a wise choice for a lifelong mate. Another over-the-top character also ...more
May 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-in-2013
Bounding, gleeful, slaphappy, this book reminded me of nothing so much as Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49, which I loved when I was 19. I wish I'd read this at the same time-- I was still mightily amused by it, by its stupendous and ridiculous language and wordplay and humour, but I've gotten old enough, I think, to get tired of lunacy more easily. By the time there's a 30-some-page plot detour about severe haemorrhoids in the last tenth of the book, I began to wonder why exactly I'd loved the beginn ...more
This is a sort of trippy Confederacy Of Dunces kind of story, and I get a strong Ignatius Reilly vibe coming off of Nicholas Payne. This is quite a bit darker, a little less slapstick and far more erudite, no doubt. (I can never articulate why Kerouac's On The Road continues to leave me flat, but I think I'm probably disappointed that it's not more like The Bushwhacked Piano.) ...more
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