(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Just before the halfway point of the novel, Nichol Dance vows to shoot Thomas Skelton if he attempts to compete with the two established guides of Key West, Dance himself and Faron Carter. He communicates this vow in a face-to-face confrontation, yet Skelton continues with his plan. As a result, the plot and the basis for the reader’s interest are extremely simple. The two men seem headed for an ultimate, mortal confrontation, neither of them willing to compromise or be deflected from his declared purpose. The sense of violent inevitability is increased by the violence of Dance’s personality—he has already killed one person and come close to killing a second—and by Skelton’s strangely quiet, persevering stubbornness. This conflict is the core of the novel. In the first half, the plot is more improvised and dense than in the second half, as the conflict comes into focus—once Dance has made his vow to kill Skelton if he intrudes on his territory as fishing guide, the novel’s action becomes so simple it is perhaps simplistic. It is almost as if the author has communicated to the reader: A violent confrontation will inevitably occur, read on and see how it happens. The guiding hand of the author, discreet in the first half, becomes prominent in the second. The denouement is accompanied by real suspense, yet a true sense of inevitability is lacking.

There are three main reasons for this. The mode of the novel is basically comic—or wry, caustic comic—and this prevents most of the characters from attaining three-dimensional solidity or “roundness.” Skelton’s character is the most fully developed, and the novel charts his development from youth to manhood; his identity...

(The entire section is 694 words.)


(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Thomas Skelton, having quit college, wants to become a skiff guide at home in Key West, Florida. Upset by the decadence of American culture, Skelton has fallen back on a life of drugs and promiscuity. He has arrived at his ideal occupation only after realizing that there is nothing else he would like to do. Sportfishing, suddenly, is the only job that makes sense to him in an America that prizes excess and waste.

Skelton, however, unexpectedly develops a rivalry with Nichol Dance, another skiff guide from Key Marathon. Dance is upset by Skelton’s decision to be a guide, and he warns the young man to steer clear of his territory. Dance feels that Skelton has no business as a fishing guide, but Skelton feels that becoming a guide is his only chance at sanity and a somewhat normal life.

Dance goes to prison for attacking a man and “gives” Skelton his business. He sends his clients, the Rudleighs, out with Skelton. Dance is released from prison because the man he attacked did not die. While Skelton and the Rudleighs are out on their expedition, Dance finds them. He plays a practical joke on Skelton, taking the Rudleighs away as if they have been kidnapped. The joke is also meant to serve as a warning to Skelton not to compete with Dance now that he is free to reclaim his business.

The rivalry between the two men escalates. Skelton burns Dance’s boat, and Dance threatens to kill Skelton. Despite knowing that Dance is capable of...

(The entire section is 448 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

McGuane’s third novel, Ninety-two in the Shade, is set in steamy Key West in the world of sportfishing. On the surface, the plot deals with a turf battle between two fishing guides, old-timer Nichol Dance and newcomer Thomas Skelton. The real focus of the novel, though, is a common McGuane theme: the unrest of the protagonist (Skelton) and his search for something that will allow him to remain sane and escape the decadence of American civilization.

Thomas Skelton has quit college as a marine biology major and wants to become a fishing guide at his home of Key West. His despair at what he sees around him, however, has led to drug use, crazy behavior, and the process of discovering a career by elimination. Sportfishing seems to be the only occupation that will keep him sane. The only problem with his decision is that Nichol Dance, one of the guides west of Key Marathon, feels threatened enough to warn Skelton not to guide in Dance’s territory. The conflict revolves around these two men: Dance feels that he must establish “credence”; Skelton feels that his only hope for sanity is to guide.

A series of events leads to a direct confrontation between Dance and Skelton. While in prison for attacking Ray the dockmaster, Dance sends his clients, the Rudleighs from Connecticut, to Skelton. During their excursion, Dance (released from prison because Ray did not die) “kidnaps” the Rudleighs from Skelton’s skiff as both a practical joke and a warning. In retaliation, Skelton burns Dance’s boat, his only possession of any value; Dance tells Skelton he will kill him if he guides west of Marathon.

Key West and guiding are the ends of the road for both men. Skelton knows that Dance is...

(The entire section is 707 words.)