cover image Keep the Change

Keep the Change

Thomas McGuane. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (HMH), $18.95 (230pp) ISBN 978-0-395-48887-4

If McGuane's reputation as one of America's most clearsighted, acutely observant writers was in any doubt during the five-year pause since his last novel, his newest work should confirm his status and win him new admirers. Rangy and generous but also intensely personal, his narrative tracks Joe Starling from his father's Montana ranch to a lazy life in Key West and then back again, as he decides to approach middle age by examining the relationships and ties of his youth. Starling is a blocked painter and a reluctant cowboy; smart and lonely, he struggles to find purpose and maintain honor, not always successfully. Complicating matters are family ghosts (some alive, some not), financial crises and, above all, the two women in his life--one a boyhood love now married to his rival, the other a self-described ``trashy-mouth Cuban who doesn't appreciate him'' but does love him. McGuane makes what could have been an indecipherable personal quest into a vivid, even suspenseful story, in language that seems to have been stripped clean of excess, reduced to only the most evocative descriptions and accurate emotions. Even for a writer of his standing, a novel as unfaltering as this one is a rarity. Major ad/promo; author tour. (Sept.)