This book has been on my mind lately, and I’ve been searching every bookstore for a copy to reread. I was idly eyeing my bookshelf in the library and noticed that I already have a copy of it, the Penguin Classics 1981 reprint. McGuane dances with words, pokes you in the eye then scurries away into a cloud of muck.
Thomas Skelton has decided that the only work to keep him sane is as a fishing guide. Unfortunately, there’s not room enough on Key West for another guide, Nichol Dance and Faron Carter are already the experts who have cornered the market. Dance promises to kill Skelton if he goes through with his plan to guide. Carter and Dance team up to trick Skelton by having him guide the Rudleighs and they swoop in to take the couple home when Skelton wades off to capture (actually release) the fish. Skelton then burns Dance’s boat and then builds his own boat from scratch.
Skelton’s father has retreated from life to his mosquito netted hammock, watching football and muttering at the world. He roams around town in his sheet/toga, does some mushrooms with his son in the Blimp Works. Skelton’s grandfather is a powerful figure in town, having an affair with his secretary, trying to get his son to snap out of his stupor. Skelton’s girl, Miranda, is not a source of comfort; he walks in on her with another guy, she tells him to wait until she finishes then comes out to see him. In the end, Dance and Carter watch Skelton go out on his first guide trip and Dance’s boat won’t start so he borrows Carter’s boat to track down Skelton and shoot him through the heart.
After Bella (the secretary) has broken a glass by shrieking at it while getting mopped by her lover, Skelton’s grandfather:
Abruptly, she rose to her feet, weeping silently with pride, and flung herself into her ungrateful lover’s arms. She stood there a long time in a gradually enlarging puddle of suds; shards of crystal were scattered about the table. And somehow, the suds, the pail, the mop, and the crystal were “mute testimony” to a life of charisma and reversals, the tawdry and the magnifique: in short, the universal condition of total blandness decorated only here and there, like cheap raisin bread, with modern French philosophers in waterproofs.