Thomas McGuane has a prodigious talent for creating amusing, vivid, flat characters. This is part of his comic talent. Some of Skelton’s fishing clients are masterfully sketched, for example, Mr. and Mrs. Rudleigh from Connecticut and Olie Slatt from Montana. Skelton’s very kinky family is a source of much amusement and laughs. Sometimes, the humor throws all verisimilitude to the winds—and this would be fine if Ninety-two in the Shade were a purely comic novel. Skelton’s home is the fuselage of an antique warplane; his father, who once established a whorehouse and owned a factory for blimps that flew the black flag of anarchism, voluntarily confines himself to the house and lives for months at a time in a bassinet that is covered with mosquito netting; Skelton’s mother is a former prostitute; his grandfather, Goldsboro Skelton, is one of the biggest crooks in Florida and somehow charms businesses into paying him graft and protection money. They are comic characters.
Yet Thomas Skelton is engaged in finding a reasonable vocation, even if only for half of his time (he would like to read and see his girlfriend during the other half), and in finding an identity. The novel half-comically and half-seriously follows his development, his search for the truth about himself and his family. It flirts with the tradition of the Bildungsroman. The characters are both comic and not comic, hovering between flatness and roundness. Readers who...
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