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Thomas McGuane: Ninety-Two in the Shade

McGuane likes his stories about practical jokes, particularly those that are somewhat nasty and this novel is no exception. Thomas Skelton, somewhat high at the beginning of the novel, comes back to Florida to work as a fishing guide, to escape from the modern world. However, he has a rival in Nichol Dance, who has already killed a man back in Kentucky. Dance turned up in Key West, when his car broke down and caught fire. He managed to earn a bit doing odd jobs but lost most of it after a fifty-seven day marriage, as the court awarded most of it to his ex-wife. But he still had his skiff. However, he is a drunk and in trouble with the law. So when Skelton comes along, he is prepared to hand over his clients to Skelton, temporarily, on the basis that he will get them back, which he would not with the other guides. Skelton takes the first couple out but Dance plays a trick on him by stealing them away, so Skelton gets his revenge by burning Dance’s boat. Dance then tells him that if he carries on working as a guide in Key West, he will kill him. Skelton’s response is to accept his grandfather’s offer to buy him a skiff. Despite the best efforts of Miranda Cole, his girlfriend, and his father, he goes ahead and takes clients out, with the obvious consequences.

McGuane writes with wit but also he doesn’t mince words, like Nichol Dance. He has a story to tell and he tells it. It is all a bit macho and men being men, being competitive but it is well done and may be his best book.

Publishing history

First published 1973 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux