Thursday, February 05, 2009

Author Highlight: Patrick McManus

*** I asked my husband to write up something about McManus becuase he was the one who introduced me to this author in the first place. To me, McManus is to the American what Wodehouse is to, well, the world. So maybe McManus' audience is smaller but we're here doin' our part to change all that. ***

Disclaimer: It's another Post From The Husband, folks, so you can just hit that "back" button right now if you're not up for some talk about good ol' huntin', fishin' and shootin'.

The only thing is, truth be told, I'm more the typin', pointin' and clickin' type myself. Carrie will be the first one to agree that outdoor, uh, "recreation" is not something I particularly enjoy. (Truth be told, she doesn't either.) But, we share a common love of books. And a common loathing of stumbling through the wilderness with nothing but a bedroll and a box of matches.

However, when it comes to other peoples' adventures, well, bring it on! I always loved The Mysterious Island, The Count of Monte Cristo, and any other tale of adventure I could get my hands on.

When I was a boy, I discovered the works of Patrick McManus, and through them lived a much more outdoorsy, adventuresome, and rough-and-tumble childhood than my own. McManus was a regular contributor to Field & Stream magazine, and his books were compilations of his short stories -- but it wasn't the anecdotes about camping and hunting that I was drawn to... no, it was the fact that they made the perfect backdrop for some of the most hysterically funny writing ever published.

McManus's trademark style is a dry, sarcastic narrative, written from the perspective of himself as a young boy who got into endless scrapes during his backwoods upbringing. It would seem that, in the childhood of this (mostly fictional) McManus, everything always went wrong at the exact moment and in the exact way to create the utmost hilarity in retelling.

Although he's written over a dozen books, I've always loved his early collections the best -- their style is more fresh and spontaneous than his more recent works. My favorites (I couldn't pick just one) are:
- The Grasshopper Trap
- A Fine and Pleasant Misery
- Never Sniff A Gift Fish

What sparked this blog post was my recent reading of his latest collection, Kerplunk! For me, it was a bit disappointing -- in his more recent columns, it feels like McManus is starting to find the genre a bit tiresome after all these (30+) years. (Not something I can really blame him for.)

Recently, he's also turned his hand to fiction with The Blight Way and Avalanche, a mystery series around the fictional Sheriff Bo Tully. Although these are reasonably enjoyable novels, it truly feels like there are endless writers of popular fiction out there, and that form of writing really doesn't give the humorous genius in McManus the opportunity to shine. (I'm not sure how his publisher is advertising these. "Bestselling humorist proves he can write books that aren't funny, too!" Yes, and I'm sure Leonard Bernstein could play "Chopsticks".)

But of his early collections... Never have I read anything that so perfectly juxtaposes fresh, youthful exuberance with complete calamity, in the most hilarious way possible.

If you've never read Patrick McManus, pick one up and give it a try. You really have no excuse not to -- Amazon is showing used copies of the titles I mentioned above available for $0.01! The beauty of these collections is that short stories make for fun, quick reading. But, to plagiarize an old ad campaign, "Betcha can't read just one!"


Sky said...

I love the way McManus can verbally describe a situation, it always makes me feel like I am right there or reminds me that I have been there!
Thanks for the reminder that we love McManus!

Anonymous said...

I've never heard of him! Sounds like a great author--I wonder if his works are in audio. My husband would probably enjoy them; they sound perfect for day tripping in the van!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading this post and being introduced to a new (to me) author. You should invite your husband to post more often. I like his writing style.

Laura said...

My husband and I both love McManus. We "discovered" him back in 1989 when Dick Estell read The Night the Bear Ate Goombaw aloud for public radio. We immediately bought all the McManus books in print and have bought all the ones since then. Our sons have loved his books - they usually read them when they're 12 to 14 - and even can be talked into reading them aloud to the family.

Great books! I'm so glad your husband reviewed them!

Framed said...

I recently read a McManus book. I t was art memoir and part cookbook. I loved the memoir part and want to read more of his works.

Sarah M. said...

I was so excited to see this post on your blog. It's been years since I read a McManus story, but I have fond memories of reading them as a teenager. My family and I used to read them aloud to each other and I can remember laughing so hard that I was crying... or unable to read further. Unfortunately not everyone gets his humor. But I am glad to see most do. :)

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