Has any American writer led more brilliant lives than Thomas McGuane?
After recently reading Terry McDonell's account of McGuane's "Captain Berserko" years in the 1970s, I discovered a McGuane short story in current issue of The New Yorker.
I'm always happy when a McGuane story appears in the New Yorker; most other stories in the magazine, especially those from writers in their 30s and under, I find unreadable. I know what to expect from McGuane; well-crafted language, fully imagined characters and compelling plots.
Along with Richard Ford and Don DeLillo, he's a writer who's like an old acquaintance. Sadly, with the retirement of Philip Roth and the deaths of John Updike, Saul Bellow and others, my group of such writers is dwindling.
McGuane's newest story, "Papaya," a meandering, mythical tale, isn't one of my favorite McGuane stories, but it still engaged me. While many of his New Yorker stories are located in Montana, where he moved in the 1970s as the center of a hard-living literary and film community, "Papaya" takes place in Key West, another of his essential places.
At age 78, McGuane says he plans on publishing a new novel or two, but considers the short story his primary genre. Over the last decade or more, he's shown himself a master of the form up there with Cheever, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Faulkner, O'Hara, Peter Taylor, Salinger and so on.
American writers have created many masterpieces in the novel, but I often think that the short story is the distinctive American form.
As McDonell relates in his recently published memoir about his editing career, McGuane was one of those American writers prematurely accused of wasting his talent.
That came after after the publication of McGaune's novel "Panama" in the late 1970s. At the time, McGuane had turned to screenwriting and an ill-fated stint directing the movie version of his novel, "Ninety Two in the Shade," a box office flop although it did receive some critical praise.
Since that low point, McGuane has published several other novels, brilliant essays on fishing and other sports, and the growing collection of masterful short stories. He's also received recognition as a member of the National Cutting Horse Association Hall of Fame and the Flyfishing Hall of Fame.
McGuane has survived wild drinking and drugs, affairs and marriages with beautiful women, horrific accidents and the highs and lows of an American writing life.
Now, he's reached a mature place of serenity, wisdom and mastery. Many members of his generation flamed out early. McGuane keeps going, increasing his stature as one of the top American writers.