Gallatin Canyon

Western Man

Thomas McGuane is back, with a dazzling story collection about strong-willed guys, mysterious women, and stark realities on the range

Gallatin Canyon

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THROUGH A CAREER spanning four decades, nine novels, and three works of nonfiction, Thomas McGuane has demonstrated literary virtuosity, a brilliant eye for the natural world, and an almost universal knowledge of outdoor skills—from handling a fly rod to reining a runaway horse. Gallatin Canyon (Knopf, $24), his first collection of short fiction since 1986’s To Skin a Cat, is classic McGuane, packed with emotionally wayward characters following dark, twisted paths where chance occurrences, strange coincidences, and surprising bursts of humor wait in dark corners with clenched fists. Although the bulk of Gallatin Canyon is set in McGuane’s home state of Montana—the book takes its name from the fabled river gorge south of Bozeman, a death trap of blind, icy curves—the writing never lapses into clichéd western fantasy. Instead, when McGuane’s male characters adhere too tightly to the empty ideals of rugged individualism, they suffer unbearable defeat. In “The Zombie,” a Billings banker hires a girl to seduce his virgin son but destroys all three of their lives in the process. In “North Coast,” a pair of heroin-addicted wilderness buffs head into the grizzly country of western Canada, willing to damage the land they love to pay for their next fix. And in the title story, a lonely and ruthless Bozeman businessman louses up a land deal, only to find himself and his girlfriend playing a high-speed game of chicken one night in Gallatin Canyon. His aggressiveness keeps them alive, but the other driver—and his romance—are DOA. As the day goes horribly wrong, the narrator concludes that “at no time in the future would I act out a role to accomplish anything.” But his next sentence betrays the fatalism with which McGuane views the modern male: “This decision quickly evaporated with the realization that that is practically all we do in life.”

Coming Soon

Hollywood is dusting off two literary classics: Catherine Hardwicke (Lords of Dogtown) will direct a big-screen version of Edward Abbey’s The Monkey Wrench Gang, and Sam Raimi (Spider-Man) will update Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. Meanwhile, surfing gets silly with Big Wave, a comedy from Dodgeball producer Ben Stiller and directors Emmett (Thicker Than Water) and Brendan Malloy. No word yet on release dates.

Gallatin Canyon

Gallatin Canyon

Strange Trips

On the road or at sea, it's all about the journey

By Robert Sullivan
(Bloomsbury, $25)
HAVING DRIVEN ACROSS America 27 times, Robert Sullivan—author of 2004's natural history Rats—is somewhat of an authority on interstate-iana. Here he packs up his family for a trip from Oregon to New York, determined to explore our mania for long-haul drives. Ditching folksy blue highways for the multilane behemoths he argues are “the real America,” Sullivan uses the long stretches between bathroom stops to hold forth on Lewis and Clark's slog to the Pacific, the road-obsessed Beat poets, and the seventies heyday of the Cannonball Run. While his ruminations on coffee-cup lids and motel breakfast bars can be tedious, his historical detours are engrossing, and his Woody Allen–in–a–Chevy neuroses keep things lively. “I see another Impala, or at least I think it's an Impala, but, anyway, it's a cop at the top of the hill,” he notes in the Dakotas. “I slow down and am cool, or think I am cool. God, I think, please let me be cool!” A lot of the time, Sullivan, you are.
—Jason Daley

Adrift with William Willis in the Golden Age of Rafting
By T. R. Pearson
(Crown, $25)
WHEN THOR HEYERDAHL and his five crewmates crossed the Pacific in the balsa-wood raft Kon-Tiki, in 1947, they entered the pantheon of great explorers. When 61-year-old William Willis repeated the voyage, solo, seven years later, his name became a footnote in the annals of sailing miscellany. Now, in the strange-but-true history Seaworthy, Virginia- based novelist T. R. Pearson gives the fearless New York merchant seaman his due. Falling somewhere between intrepid soloist and full-on nutcase, Willis survived on raw fish, olive oil, and a daily cup of ocean water as he rafted across the Pacific twice (and attempted the Atlantic three times), periodically hanging upside down from ropes to relieve a nagging hernia. “Willis was essentially an extreme sportsman well in advance of the phenomenon,” Pearson writes. “In the context of his era, he made for a gaudy curiosity, a sort of accomplished crackpot.” By turns inspiring and hilarious, Seaworthy is an entertaining ride along the thin line that separates boldness from folly.
—Bruce Barcott