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Wednesday, August 2nd, 2006
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Gallatin Canyon: Stories

by Thomas McGuane

The Poetry of Cowboys (and Other Assorted Miscreants)

A review by Anna Godbersen

The title of Thomas McGuane's enormously satisfying new collection, Gallatin Canyon, refers to a claustrophobic deathtrap of a route from Montana to Idaho (the "combination of cumbersome commercial traffic and impatient private cars was a lethal mixture that kept [the] canyon in the papers, as it regularly spat out corpses"), and indeed, a combination of big sky freedom and gallows humor permeate the stories here. We hear some cowboy poetry, but also that of other miscreants: junkies, alcoholics, businessmen. The loner John Briggs appears in two stories, and for that he is beset both by heavy-drinking women and his old friend Erik Faucher, once his Yale roommate, now a paranoid on the run. In "The Zombie," a banker hires an escort to relieve his son of his virginity, only to find himself exposed and ruined and suicidal; we find ourselves sympathizing with the odd son, even as he exacts a brutal revenge. The tone is wry, strange, occasionally macabre, the prose clean and witty. McGuane is, of course, an enormously experienced writer, and it shows in confident, perfectly calibrated, almost slim stories in which not a word is out of place. The narrator of "Gallatin Canyon" remarks that, "People in relationships nowadays seemed to retain their secrets like bank deposits -- they always set some aside, in case they might need them to spend on someone new." These stories feel like that, too -- coy, a little reserved, waiting for a second read to fully reveal their mysteries.

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