Nothing but Blue Skies

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Frank Copenhaver is a rich man’s son forced to abandon the privileged life-style for one of enterprise and labor when his father concludes that he isn’t worth a plugged nickel. Much to everyone’s surprise, the ensuing years provide convincing proof that the acorn does not fall far from the tree. The result is a career characterized by commercial innovation, financial chutzpah, and a careful attention to the cowboy philosophy of never leaving a trail for your enemies to follow. As NOTHING BUT BLUE SKIES opens, Frank is at the point where the financial rewards are many and the personal satisfactions numerous.

But, those who race toward the stars on a pillar of fire are occasionally sent plummeting into the depths in a shower of dung, and Frank Copenhaver is no exception. Suddenly, inexplicably, his wife of many years announces the marriage is over and she’s no longer interested in salvaging anything from the wreckage. Gracie Copenhaver’s departure raises the question in the minds of many as to whether the emperor was in fact without clothes—a diagnosis which appears to be confirmed when Frank begins to match his marital failure with a series of professional misjudgments.

Soon, Frank is financially vulnerable, and his efforts to recover only serve to grease the skids of his economic slide to disaster. All is not lost, however, although it definitely appears so for most of this rather manic work. NOTHING BUT BLUE SKIES combines the outstanding qualities of Larry McMurtry and Anne Tyler in a manner which is nevertheless unique.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. LXXXVIII, August, 1992, p. 1973.

Chicago Tribune. September 13, 1992, XIV, p. 3.

The Christian Science Monitor. October 7, 1992, p. 14.

Kirkus Reviews. LX, July 15, 1992, p. 874.

Los Angeles Times Book Review. October 11, 1992, p. 1.

The New York Review of Books. XXXIX, December 3, 1992, p. 14.

The New York Times Book Review. XCVII, September 13, 1992, p. 7.

Publishers Weekly. CCXXXIX, July 13, 1992, p. 47.

Time. CXL, November 2, 1992, p. 72.

The Washington Post Book World. XXII, September 13, 1992, p. 3.

Nothing but Blue Skies

(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

In an interview published in 1989, author Thomas McGuane relates how, as a teenager in the 1950’s, he had once gone with his father to inspect a neighbor’s newly constructed fallout shelter. He tells how his father considered building one for his own family but ultimately decided against doing so. “I think we’ll just stay up on the ground and take our lumps,” the elder McGuane said.

Many readers of McGuane’s generation will recall storm cellars or basements being outfitted to do double duty as shelters against the dreaded Russians’ A- and H-bombs. An even larger number of readers will confess to having stayed up on the ground to take their lumps. McGuane himself has been known to drive fast cars, consort with pretty women, and, in the past anyway, occasionally drink more liquor than the Surgeon General would advise. His fiction should be required reading of anyone who has never had the high honor of sitting astride a fine horse (McGuane has been Montana’s cutting-horse champion several times), having his or her heart stomped on by a good woman or by some scoundrel of a man, or participating in a bare-knuckled barroom fight. Those fortunate folks who have experienced all the above likely already know Thomas McGuane’s work.

McGuane’s previous novels—The Sporting Club (1969), The Bushwhacked Piano (1971), Ninety-Two in the Shade (1973), Panama (1978), Nobody’s Angel (1982), Something to Be Desired (1984), and Keep the Change (1989) among them—have been described as “macho Western fantasy,” a style for which most readers need to acquire a taste. Comes now Nothing But Blue Skies—a downright engaging novel that is clearly more accessible than those previously published.

For a novel that chronicles the downward plunge of a middle-aged man whose wife has walked out on him unexpectedly, whose business is fast failing, and whose love life consists of a series of frantic, loveless couplings with various unattached women friends, Nothing But Blue Skies is a very amusing book.

This novel is filled with wonderful one-liners. While McGuane has said elsewhere that he sometimes thinks he will yawn himself to death in Montana—what with all the “yeps” and “nopes” of the natives there—the man definitely has a keen ear for his neighbors’ speech, and he has managed to capture that speech perfectly here. When these folks speak, McGuane is clearly a good and attentive listener, and he mimics their “poor-boy” conversations over coffee in a way which must turn professional impressionists green with envy: “Why, it’s not as if we had nice childhoods, home alone sewing up prolapsed cows with hog rings and shoelaces—I’m sure you done that.” And this: “‘By the way,’ the older man said, relighting the cigarette stub, ‘I believe my dog is superstitious. This morning he wouldn’t go up to that green stock truck belonging to Vanderhooven. Do you recall Joker ever being run over by anything green or anything which was owned by Vanderhooven?’”

And then there is the setting for Nothing But Blue Skies: Deadrock, Montana, is a town of some 10,000 souls wherein some of McGuane’s earlier works have been set. Deadrock is the sort of town where the protagonist’s recently departed wife, Gracie Copenhaver, can unself-consciously operate a cafe called “Amazing Grease”; it is a place where a run-down (although historically significant) Main Street hotel called the Kid Royale can be converted into a large chicken house in order to foil the bankers who would repossess it; it is the kind of place where a born-again Christian...

(The entire section is 1514 words.)

Ideas for Group Discussions

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Nothing But Blue Skies differs from other McGuane novels in the contours of its main character and in the direction of its relations...

(The entire section is 376 words.)

Techniques / Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Although we might place Nothing But Blue Skies in a tradition of the American novel as critique of the business ethic ranging from...

(The entire section is 388 words.)