cover image Crow Fair

Crow Fair

Thomas McGuane. Knopf, $25.95 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-35019-8

"Me and Ray thought you ought to see what dementia looks like,” a woman named Morsel tells Dave, who has just driven Ray across the prairie to visit Morsel and her peculiar father. It’s one of many funny, sad, and awful, awfully human moments from McGuane’s (Gallatin Canyon) latest story collection featuring aging cowboys, middle-aged men resistant to growing up, and the women who plague and perplex them. “Motherlode” traces the road trip to Morsel’s house from a not-so-chance encounter at a smalltown hotel to a scheme for selling drugs in Montana’s northern oil fields. McGuane’s Montana retains wistful and ironic echoes of the Old West. The title story recounts how two brothers handle their dying mother’s revelation of her long-ago love affair at the Crow Fair powwow/Wild West Show. With imagery as sparse and striking as the landscape, houses figure prominently. “Weight Watchers” shows a man who builds homes only for other people. The repossessed “House on Sand Creek” becomes home to a real estate lawyer, his Eastern European wife, her infant son, and Bob the babysitter. At the “Fishing Camp,” two longtime friends find their wilderness guide cannot stand being in the wilderness with men who keep arguing about the past. Among female characters, “Prairie Girl” shines as she makes her way from prostitute to bank president. A boy steals hubcaps; a shaman begs charity; a girl hikes toward the howling of wolves: McGuane’s stories highlight the detachment of young from old, husband from wife, neighbor from neighbor, the dying from life itself. (Mar.)