act to save themselves. Maclean trackedrndown a few of the forest rangers whornsent these men to their doom. Many ofrnthem retained scars of their terrible culpability;rnothers, professional desk jockeys,rnmaintained their innocence. Survivingrnfirefighters were not so quick tornforgive, and their hard words are hallmarksrnin Maclean’s narrative.rnAs Maclean notes, the lessons of Augustrn1949 did not go unlearned despiternthe Forest Service’s efforts to cover uprnofficial malfeasance. Since the disaster,rnfirefighters have received a rigorousrncourse of instruction designed to avertrnothers like it. The burial benefit to firefighters’rnheirs was also doubled to arnwhopping $400. (There has been nornneed to claim it; no smokejumper hasrnperished in the line of duty since thernMann Gulch debacle.) And the ForestrnService began to understand that not allrnfires need to be fought, that fire tends tornbenefit most ecosystems by clearingrndead undergrowth and fertilizing soilrnwith ash. For that reason, the MannrnGulch-sized blazes that swept across YellowstonernNational Park in 1989 were allowedrnto rage on, and today the area is asrnlush as ever.rnWhen Maclean died in 1990, hisrnmanuscript lay unfinished. It was up tornthe editors of the University of ChicagornPress to cobble it together, divide therntext into chapters, and silently completerna few of the author’s thoughts. In thernmain they have done their job well.rnMaclean would have done better, andrnthe present book is not quite up to therngrace and power of A River RunsrnThrough It, a masterpiece of contemporaryrnprose and perhaps the single bookrnthat best captures the spirit of thernNorthwest. But for all that. Young Menrnand Fire offers a riveting detective storyrnand stands as a fitting testimonial tornthose 13 brave men who died needlesslyrnin the woods of Montana 43 years ago.rnThomas McGuane has consciouslyrncarved out a niche in American literaryrnhistory as our contemporary Hemingway,rneven by tracing the old man’srnfootsteps from place to place. In thern1960’s and 70’s McGuane was associatedrnwith Key West, where he kept arnhouse and produced his earliest novels.rnHe had a reputation as a hellraiser then,rnseeking to match his distinguished literaryrnancestor drink for drink and spousernfor spouse. But twenty years have passed,rnand McGuane has mellowed. He nowrnlives on a ranch in the Paradise Valley ofrnWestern Montana, where he devotes hisrntime to raising cattle, reading, and writing.rnNow a mature man in his mid-50’s,rnMcGuane has abandoned most of hisrnyouthful pursuits, and his roman a clef.rnNothing But Blue Skies, shows it.rnFrank Copenhaver, the lonely heroâ€”rnor antiheroâ€”of this novel is a sorry sightrnto behold. He is lost on that great sea ofrngrass verging on Montana’s westernrnmountains, near Livingston, where hisrncreator just happens to live. Montanarnmay be the very definition of wide-openrnspaces, but for Frank Gopenhaver itsrnvastness more and more resembles arnprison with each passing day.rnGopenhaver’s world is unraveling beforernhis eyes. His marriage of manyrnyears is imploding; as the novel opensrnhis wife, who runs a Gajun restaurantrncalled Amazing Grease, is preparing tornleave him for parts unknown. He is wellrnin his 50’s, and the years aren’t treatingrnhim well. His neohippie daughter is datingrna man his own age. He has taken torndriving down back roads screaming, “Myrnempire is falling!” and has lost connectionrnwith the world. A lover of fishingrnand wilderness, like any true Montanan,rnGopenhaver spends his days and nightsrnindoors, making business deals, sendingrnfaxes, and poring over the Wall StreetrnJournal. All for naught becauseâ€”ofrncourseâ€”his contracting business isrnfalling to pieces along with the rest ofrnhis universe. How Gopenhaver extricatesrnhimself from the mess he has madernof his life is the meat of McGuane’s story.rnA fully fleshed, believable character,rnhe makes a botch of nearly every attempt,rnas we all do. He picks barroomrnfights with big cowboys, taunts localrnpoliticians with cries of “fascist,” andrngenerally does things just the way hernknows he should not. By twists andrnturns McGuane allows Copenhaver torngrope his way to something approachingrna happy ending, but not without majorrnpratfalls.rnNothing But Blue Skies is appealingrnon any number of frontsâ€”certainlyrnmore so than the dismal Something tornBe Desired, published in 1984. An especiallyrnfine touch is McGuane’srnrespectful treatment of his womenrncharacters, another welcome sign ofrnmaturity. Gopenhaver’s wife Gracie isrnthoroughly likable, and he shows no rancorrntoward her for having abandonedrnhim. He has plenty of likable womenrnfriends as well, true friends and not merernobjects of desire. The most intellectuallyrnattractive of them, June, isn’t at allrn”astonished to find out that life was arnfight,” as the narrator observes. “So herrnfeistiness lacked the indignation, thernbruised quality, that gave relationshipsrnbetween men and women these daysrntheir peculiar smelliness.”rnUnlike his early novels (Panama, ThernSporting Club, and Ninety-two in thernShade), McGuane’s new novel is no tourrnde force. Nothing But Blue Skies is, however,rna well-considered study of a manrnconfronting a mid-life crisis and, in thernend, overcoming it by sheer force of will.rn(In that regard it beats Robert Bly’srnweepy Iron John by a long shot. FrankrnGopenhaver despises pop-psych solutions,rnremarking “I’m much too old forrnthat sort of thing. The messages of myrnformative years all came from LittlernRichard, who never soiled himself withrnan inner journey.”)rnIronic, precise, and in full commandrnof his language, McGuane delivers sharprnobservations on our deteriorating world.rnAlong with Ken Kesey, who takes a slapstickrnview of the future, and NormanrnMaclean, who casts a cold eye on thernpast, he is helping to elevate the literaturernof the Pacific Northwest to nationalrnprominence.
rnLIBERAL ARTSrnTOUCHErn”The August 19 ‘Family Values’-festrnat the Republican convention almostrnleft me comatose. . . . I was concernedrnthat the tenor of the meetingrnhad cast an ominous shadow onrnthe possibility that any non-traditionalrn’family’ ever had a chance ofrnliving a happy, safe or ‘decent’ lifernhere in the U. S. A.rn”Just as my despair began tornmount, the music from the bandrnswelled dramatically. What? Couldrnthis familiar tune be what I thoughtrnit was? No! It couldn’t be! But yes,rnyes it was! ‘The Best of Times’ fromrnLa Cage aux Follesl My faith inrnAmerica had been renewed.”rnâ€”from an August 26 letter by KevinrnD. Kouba to the Courier-Journal inrnLouisville, Kentucky.rnDECEMBER 1992/35rnrnrn
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