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"Keep the Change" by Thomas McGuane

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This is the story of Joe Starling, Jr., who inherits the ranch in Montana after a short and spotty career in art and illustration. He finds Astrid, a woman from Miami, dallies briefly with Ellen, a girl from his youth, and finally signs the ranch over to Billy, who is married to Ellen.

This story is spare, given over to Montana-speak (like Kent Haruf, only without the depth of emotion or impressive characterization or poetry). Our hero's mood swings are sudden and uneven and sometimes mysterious. I think McGuane wanted to place Joe's emotional state in a family context, but I began shortly to wonder what was the point. And concurrently I quit caring.

I saw this book reviewed as an "epic," and that's just mistaken. I often have a hard time with prose that poses as "spare in the service of a stark story," because so often it's mishandled just enough to make motivation completely mysterious. That, I'm afraid, afflicts this book.
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