An Outside Chance

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Last Updated on May 9, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 360

AN OUTSIDE CHANCE: CLASSIC AND NEW ESSAYS ON SPORT is a reissue of McGuane’s original collection, OUTSIDE CHANCE (1980), though with the addition of five new essays. The reader should not worry that McGuane’s work falters over time or with repetition, for these essays bear rereading; indeed, the McGuane aficionado who might first have encountered these essays ten years ago will delight in renewing the acquaintance, while the first-time reader will enjoy the discovery of McGuane’s rich, evocative prose.

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McGuane covers a lot of ground in these essays. His subjects range from fishing for tarpon and bonefish in the Florida Keys to flyfishing for trout in Michigan and Montana; from training and riding cutting-horses in Texas to hunting deer in the Gallatin Range. Moreover, McGuane writes mainly as a skilled participant; these are personal essays that reveal as much about the sport as about the sportsman, so that the reader finishes with the deeper understanding of both the nature of the sporting instinct and the sporting self of Tom McGuane.

In “Small Streams in Michigan,” we see McGuane as a young boy, fishing trout streams in his native Michigan, and learning something about the relations between boy and stream as well as between son and father. Later, we see the older McGuane passing along that knowledge, that legacy to his own son as they ride and hunt together in such essays as “Roping, from A to B” and “The Heart of the Game” (the latter essay perhaps the very “heart” of the collection itself).

Ultimately, these essays are marked with a certain contemplative, almost spiritual quality. McGuane (an exquisite stylist) turns the language of sport into the language of art, and sport itself into near-art. Like McGuane, we are instructed in the proper relation of human being to place; we are taught the ways of sport that we might better comprehend the ways of the world. There is, McGuane argues, an aesthetic that pervades the acts of sport—the cast of a flyrod, the reining-in of a cutting-horse, the gutting of a downed deer—that also informs our everyday lives, that reminds us of our most elemental natures.

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