Thomas McGuane’s recent book of stories, Gallatin Canyon (2006), compels a look back over nearly forty years of work. McGuane has steadily produced novels, stories and screenplays, and essays on sports and pastimes like fishing and horseback riding. He has been quietly influential and subtly subversive.[1] Coursing through his work is a current of strident silliness—funny names, wacky characters, outsize occurrences—that flows from Mark Twain, picks up Ring Lardner and others early in the twentieth century, and adds Joseph Heller and Thomas Pynchon, post–World War II.

In spite of this, McGuane is hard to place. The humor is evident from the start, but there is something stylishly askew. The early novels The Sporting Club (1969), The Bushwhacked Piano (1971), and Ninety-two in the Shade (1973), while full of oddballs in slapstick situations, also feature formalities of diction and syntactical quirks (“Stanton beckoned”; “Little comfort derived from the slumberous heat of the day”) that seem plucked from the Victorians. The Sporting Club’s protagonist even puts himself to sleep reading Thackeray.

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