Executive Times






2006 Book Reviews


Gallatin Canyon by Thomas McGuane








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Thomas McGuane’s first short story collection in twenty years, Gallatin Canyon, presents ten stories that excel at calling attention to characters who are flawed and struggling. McGuane’s close attention to the emotional depth that remains beneath the surface makes each story powerful in its own way. Here’s an excerpt, from the beginning of the story titled, “Old Friends,” pp. 44-46:


John Briggs was made aware of the fact that some sort of prob­lem existed for his friend and former schoolmate Erik Faucher by sheer coincidence. A request for news came from the class secretary, Everett Hoyt, who had in the thirty years since they’d graduated from Yale hardly set foot out of New Haven. With ancestors buried at the old Center Church in spitting dis­tance of both the regicide Dixwell and Benedict Arnold’s wife, Hoyt was paralyzed by a sense of generational inertia. It was said that if he hadn’t got into Yale, he would not have gone to college at all but would have remained at home, waiting to bury his par­ents. Now, in place of any real social life, he edited the newsletter, often accompanying his requests with small indiscretions deliv­ered with a certain giddiness—which he called Entre News— concerning marital failure or business malfeasance, and they almost never made it into the alumni letter.

Hoyt phoned John Briggs at his summer home, in Montana, on a nondescript piece of prairie inherited from a farmer uncle, and, while pretending to hunt up class news, insinuated that Erik Faucher, having embezzled a fortune from a bank in Boston, had gone into hiding.

“I have heard through private sources that our class scofflaw is now headed your way”

Briggs waited for the giggle to subside. “I certainly hope so,” he snapped. “I’ve missed Erik.” But he began to worry that Erik might actually come.

“See what you can do,” Hoyt sang.

“I don’t understand that remark, Everett.”

“Perhaps it will come to you.”

“I’ll let you know if it does.”

Faucher’s ex-wife, Carol, called around five in the morning, having declined to account for the time change. “How very nice to hear your voice,” said Briggs, producing a cold laugh from Carol. “How are you?”

“I’m calling about Erik. He has not been behaving sensibly at all, some very odd things to say the least.”

Briggs absorbed this in silence. He knew if he said anything at all, he’d have to stand up for Faucher, and he wasn’t sure he wanted to.

“Carol, you’ve been divorced a long time,” he said finally.

“We have mutual interests. I don’t know what sort of plan he has in place. And there’s Elizabeth.” Elizabeth was their daughter.

“I’m sure he’s made a very sensible plan.”

“I don’t want Elizabeth to wind up sleeping in her car. Or me, for that matter.”

“I don’t think we should argue.” This was in response to her tone.

“Did I say we should? I’m saying, Help. I’m saying, It’s about time you did.” When Briggs failed to reply, she added, “I know where he’s going and who to put on his trail.”

Briggs’s friendship with Faucher had been long and intermit­tent. Arbitrarily assigned as roommates at the boarding school they’d attended before Yale, they had become lifelong friends without ever getting over the fact that their discomfort with each other occasionally boiled over into detestation. Sometime earlier they had been sold loyalty much as the far-fetched basics of reli­gion are sold to the credulous. When Briggs was in his twenties and had sunk everything into a perfectly legitimate though very small mining company in Alberta with excellent long-term prospects but ruinously expensive short-term requirements, Erik rescued him from bankruptcy by finding a buyer who bought Briggs out at a price that restored his investment and even gave him a small profit to accompany this dangerous lesson. Erik ex­plained that he’d had to waste a valuable quid pro quo on this and waved his finger in Briggs’s face.

When Erik was pulled from the second story of a burning whorehouse on assignment for UNESCO as part of a Boston Congregationalists’ outreach to hungry Guatemalans, Briggs made a desperate stand to keep the matter out of the news­papers and saw that nettlesome citations on his dossier were expunged.

Against these decades of loyalty, they seemed to search for an unforgivable trait in each other that would relieve them of this abhorrent, possibly lifelong burden. But now they had years of continuity to contend with, and it was harder and harder to visu­alize a liberating offense.

“I’m glad you called,” he said to Erik, while holding a water­ing can over the potted annuals in his front window “Everyone else has said you’re headed this way”

“Everyone else? Like who?”

“Like Carol, the vulgar shrew you took to your heart.”

“Carol? I don’t know how she tracks my movements.”

“And things are not so well just now?”

“Oh, bad, John. It’s not wrong to claim the end is in sight.” His voice struck Briggs like a saw

“I do wish this came at a better time. I’m on a short holiday myself, the theory being rest is indicated—”

“I won’t be any trouble.”

“Is that so?”


You can almost feel the rising emotions in this dialogue, but the containment within. Gallatin Canyon is a great collection, meant to be savored one story at a time. One or two are not up to the level of the others, but you won’t know that until you’ve finished Gallatin Canyon.


Steve Hopkins, November 20, 2006



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The recommendation rating for this book appeared

 in the December 2006 issue of Executive Times


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