The unforgettable voyager of this dark picaresque is I. B. "Berl" Pickett, M.D., whose die was probably cast the moment his mother thought to name him after Irving Berlin. Other insults piled on apace thereafter: the spasms of Pentecostal Sunday worship; the social debilitation of following his parents' itinerant rug-shampooing business; the erotic initiation at the hands of his aunt. It's hard to imagine what would have become of him had he not gone to medical school.
But there must be meaning to existence beyond professional accreditation, and though scantly equipped, Berl Pickett has been on a mission to find it, despite being charged with negligent homicide in the death of his former lover. Will he at last find his spiritual awakening?
Fans of literary fiction will enjoy Traber Burns’ superb rendition of Thomas McGuane’s meditative novel and its memorable protagonist. McGuane’s latest book follows Irving Berlin Pickett, a socially awkward doctor and self-proclaimed nitwit living in his Montana hometown.
Burns’ narration is pitch perfect. He brings ”Berl” to life and makes a potentially exasperating character sympathetic and likeable. Best known for his performances in the Piers Anthony fantasy series Adept Apprentice, Burns captures the regional cadence and wry humor and gives an understated, brilliant performance.
Burns’ performance is crucial, as Driving on the Rim is a character study and relies less on plot. Born to an Evangelical Christian mother and a hapless father, Berl is still ruminating on his strange childhood. He rues his inability to make good decisions and his livelihood as a doctor is in jeopardy after his former lover dies under his care. Strange romantic entanglements further complicate his life, which threatens to spin out of control. Berl finds solace in the Montana landscape and reflects on religion, faith, and love as he struggles to find a way to make his way in the world.
Esteemed author McGuane really shines with well-crafted sentences that are alternately funny and insightful, and his gorgeous depictions of nature. His version of Montana, itself a living character in the novel and a vivid backdrop to Berl’s tale, is populated by an eclectic bunch of interesting people (a lazy ranch hand, a ruthless pilot, a hard-living lawyer, and a sex-crazed aunt to name a few) that make the novel feel rich.
Listeners who strictly enjoy popular fiction may not care for the slow pace and winding narrative, but ardent literary fiction admirers will embrace the strong writing, compelling and flawed characters, and Burns’ nuanced performance. Julie MacDonald
“No American novelist provides greater pleasure—sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, page by page—than this Montana icon.” (Chicago Sun-Times)
“Excellent. . . . Expertly quilting together the sacred and the profane, the comic and the tragic. . . Driving on the Rim should be read aloud and savored.” (The Boston Globe)
“Triumphant. . . . McGuane’s funniest novel, absurdist in an inimitably American way. . . . One of this country’s greatest comic novelists, right up there with Mark Twain.” (Men’s Journal)
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