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“Cloudbursts: Collected and New Stories”

“Cloudbursts: Collected and New Stories” by Thomas McGuane

“Cloudbursts: Collected and New Stories” by Thomas McGuane

Thomas McGuane’s “Cloudbursts: Collected and New Stories,” is a Short Story finalist for the High Plains Book Awards. No stranger to Montana, McGuane has published novels, short fiction, and non-fiction since the late ‘60s; he lives in Montana, and many of these stories are set here.

This is a collection of both previously published stories and new ones, in chronological order. The characters are flawed, and they speak and act as we know people do. McGuane’s mastery of language is nowhere more evident than in the humor that suffuses the narratives of these mostly lovable losers who could live next door. Reading “Weight Watchers,” for instance, I would share paragraphs aloud with my wife, and we would fall to laughing together. In every story, humorous turns of phrase arise that lighten and contrast McGuane’s more sober vision.

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In the final story, the narrator is an architect practicing in Livingston. Like so many of the protagonists in these stories, he is something of a loser: he loses his car to a pair of grifters, who later rob a gas station, run off the road, and are taken prisoner by the police. Truth is, he knows that he was a sucker for the tale of woe they told.

Earlier in the story as he walks out of a bar at 1 a.m., he sees a “crippled old cowboy” walking toward the railroad yards, “when a young boy, an urchin, appeared from an alley and called out to him, ‘Jack! Hey, Jack!,’ and the old man turned toward the voice . . .the excitement or joy, or whatever it was that these two experienced when they saw each other has never left me.” The story embodies much of what makes the collection so good: real characters, superb use of language, an understanding beneath the language that we are all somehow compromised in this life, and the humanity that lies beneath the compromises and unites us.

JP Mandler, a retired teacher living in Connecticut, visits Montana each year.

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