From Publishers Weekly
McGuane (Gallatin Canyon) adds another rueful portrait to his gallery of flawed masculine types, set, again, in Big Sky Country. Berl Pickett is a smalltown doctor whose ill-advised decision to try to cover up an old friend's suicide attempt leads to dire consequences when she later dies from her injuries: his clinic privileges are suspended and he faces a possible criminal negligence charge. With plenty of time on his hands, Berl reverts to his former profession of house painter. Between jobs, he contemplates his past--seduced at 14 by his aunt, professionally inspired by a kindly doctor who alone saw the potential in him--and contends with a couple of women: Jocelyn, a pilot with a shady acquaintance, and colleague Jinx Mayhall, a quiet beauty who discomfits him with her pointed inquiries into his character. The novel is more contemplative than dramatic, ending, as it does, on a decidedly anticlimactic note, but readers who relish McGuane's signature descriptions of hunting, fishing, birding, and cruising (in a rattletrap Olds Starfire 88) will once again be satisfied with the bard of the Absaroka Mountains' laid-back take on contemporary American manhood.
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*Starred Review* Narrator Berl Pickett is a housepainter turned doctor who lives most of his life in Livingston, Montana, struggling to overcome a “gruesome immaturity” that causes him to relate poorly to his fellow citizens. His behavior is the source of both comedy (lust leads him to lend his car to a conniving teenager and take her place at the counter of a hot-dog stand) and tragedy (his response when confronted by a suicidal wife-beater casts a long shadow over his life). Much of this—an eccentric character trying to figure life out amidst a powerful landscape—will be familiar from McGuane’s previous novels, such as Keep the Change (1989) and Nothing but Blue Skies (1992). But here the big questions have grown even bigger. For Pickett, the son of a foxhole atheist and a born-again Christian, bafflement infects his behavior; at root, this is a novel about science and faith, and life and death. The endlessly quotable McGuane (“I came from an era when breasts just happened, were not built to suit”) explores all this in a deadpan vernacular that is all the more profound for its matter-of-factness. And Pickett, an outsider in his own small town, is a fascinating character who calls to mind some of the great literary iconoclasts. But his perceived shortcoming, an inability to do as others do, represents his greatest strength: he doesn’t understand life, but he refuses to pretend that he does. A marvelous book, funny, elegiac, and profound, from a clear-eyed observer of modern life. --Keir Graff