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Impressions of the West: Thomas McGuane


Thomas McGuane’s Keep the Change is the story of Joe Starling, who grew up in Montana and moved to New York to become a successful painter. When he decides to move back to a ranch in Montana (“What made you want to go back to Montana?” “Nothing else seems to be home.” “Is that important?” “It is to me.”), he rediscovers what he loved about the western sky and grass and smell in the air.

“Joe made it a habit to ride through the yearlings every day. They were pretty well scattered out and it always took an entire morning. But he enjoyed saddling his horse in the dark and then to be rolling along as the day broke to count and check the cattle. … The great pleasure came from the grass, traveling through it horseback: the movement of the wind on its surface, the blaze of sunrise across its ocean curves. As the full warmth of the day came on, the land took on a humming vitality of cows and grass and hawks, and antelope receded dimly like something caught in your eye. Joe always rode straight into at least one covey of partridges which roared up around his horse. After the first burst, the little brick and gray chickens cast down onto a hillside and resumed feeding. Joe’s horse watched hard, then went on traveling. Instead of being someplace where he waited for the breeze through a window, Joe had gone to where the breeze came from.”

Thomas McGuane, Keep the Change, pp. 169-170.          

Credit: Christopher Owen

Credit: Christopher Owen

Credit: Christopher Owen

Thomas McGuane was awarded the Center Of the American West’s Wallace Stegner Award in 2009. Here is what the CAW had to say about McGuane:

“With precision, outrageous humor, and clear-eyed candor, you have given us today’s true West, with your disdain of greed and pomposity, your everlasting love of a good stream, a fine horse, and a plain sweep of land, and your passion for simple, productive work, all of which causes you to call cowboys “drunken, wife-beating, snoose-chewing geeks” while winning them over and a great many westerners with your honest high regard for ranch hands and others who do things carefully and right, thereby showing respect for a big-sky place that may yet save itself through honoring its best traditions.”


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