The back cover of Nobody’s Angel has an author photo that looks scissored out, featuring Tom McGuane dead center on a photo that looks like he should have been standing off to one side, illustrative of the scale of the Big Sky.
The author is wearing one of them sweaters that’s worn only because the knitter is within shoutin’ distance. Sweaters like that, with racked bucks above the nipples, never get old: they get donated or incinerated first.
I’d never read any Thomas McGuane. I liked this guy.
Besides, the back cover blurb touted Nobody’s Angel, McGuane’s fifth novel, as his “best work yet.” Seein’ as how there were likely four worse ones, I picked it up. It was written back in 1979.
Nobody’s Angel is a dark barn of a book about a cowboy soldier who gets pulled by the backside of his Wranglers into the worst kind of high plains pathos–the kind that involves dysfunctional kinfolk.
The barn door of the book opens fine: chapter one is a shot of word whiskey. It tasted like more.
When I hit the first sentence in the second chapter, it hurt so hard I winced, grabbed my toe and hopped around, cussing:
“The yard light erect upon its wood stanchion threw down a yellow faltering glow infinitely chromatic falling through the China willow to the ground pounded up against the house by the unrepentantly useless horses.”
I have visceral reactions to writing. Malcolm Gladwell makes me want to comb my hair and clean closets. Salman Rushdie makes me want to solve mazes. Michael Chabon makes me want to rub the book between my legs. Thomas McGuane cracked the barn door, his word-hay sweet and sharp-smelling…then, dag nab it, I busted my toe on that sentence.
I read it again, you know, like slowing down when you pass an accident on the road. Then I closed the book and pushed it across the table.
Life’s short. I have lots of books to read. But hey, everyone’s entitled to a leaf of parsley stuck between his teeth. So the guy penned a self-indulgent sentence; I was still thirsty. I patted the cover and got back on.
Somewhere in the next five or six chapters, McGuane’s barn animals morphed from steaming-nostril beasts into carvings from an indoor merry-go-round. The characters, while vivid and rideable, were more about the curlicued carvings in McGuane’s tortured psyche.
I realized, about twenty chapters in, that I could give a hoot about what happened to any of ‘em. This is probably because I got my own tortured psyche to ride. I don’t need to straddle someone else’s unless it’s gonna give me a happy ending, thanks.
I lack education and foundation, and I like shlock. I may never be able to paint the vivid word pictures that McGuane spits out like so much Copenhagen. I might not even be qualified to dislike this book.
This writer’s world, my backyard, goes around and around in vivid flashes and aching blurs. When I stepped off, I was at the same place I was before I paid my $1.49. Nobody’s Angel left me a little dizzy–and mighty grateful to see the barn door.