Captain Berserko Writes a Better Ending
Credit: Kurt Markus
It was McGuane's contentious relationship with his father that primed the pump for his first four novels, all of which are electrified by generational antagonism. Thomas McGuane Jr., the founder of a successful auto parts business in Detroit, died in 1976, before the two had a chance to resolve their conflicts. "Not that we necessarily would have," says McGuane.

"He was a prosperous businessman who hated rich people," McGuane says. "He was a Midwestern Republican who tried to lose his South Boston accent his whole life and whose best friend late in life was a Mexican immigrant named Johnny Escamillio. He was an Irish Catholic who always had Jewish partners, and who thought Jews were indeed the master race. He just thought it was a damned shame we weren't Jewish!"

McGuane's father, who loved the outdoors, introduced him to hunting and fishing but then got worried because, as McGuane says, "I was always out in the woods and didn't seem to be interested in girls. My father thought, That's weird – he might be gay.

"One day he said, 'You seem to think you're quite a good shot.' And I was a superb shot, but he didn't seem to know that. And he said, 'I'll tell you what; we're going to go out' – there was this private land, and there were a lot of pheasants there – and he said, 'We're going to see if you can hit something.'

"So we took our little Brittany spaniel out there, and pretty soon she goes on point, and so my dad says, 'See if you can hit one.' Well, this cloud of pheasants flies out, and I just start raining them down. And I'll remember this till the day I die, my father on his hands and knees, saying, 'Jesus Christ, stop shooting!'" McGuane still laughs at the memory.

When he went on to study English at Michigan State and then playwriting at the Yale School of Drama, his father derided his interest in writing as "fancy." "He'd say, 'Who do you think you are, Ernest Hemingway?'" McGuane recalls.

"Once he said, 'You want to be a writer? Why don't you write about something important?'

"I said, 'Like what?'

"He said, 'Like me.'

"Like you?

"He said, 'I'm having a battle with alcoholism, trying to run a business, and you're writing these frivolous stories. Why don't you just write about me?' It was sort of breathtaking."

In a sense, McGuane's father got his wish: His son went on to populate his early fiction with tough, take-no-prisoners authority figures just like his old man. And then – eerily – McGuane began to recapitulate his father's life himself.