I think if I try to read this right through, intent on the more typical pleasures of a story coalescing, a setting and context cohering, a plot gathering steam.... I'll end up frustrated. I'll rush. I'll get annoyed that I have no fucking clue what decade it is, one character nicknamed "Walkman" but another apparently modeled on Jazz Age flappers.
But if I take a chapter by chapter approach, and I savor each line--if I approach this book as my occasional, taking a draught now and again, relishing between and around others . . . . I think I'll sync up with its rhythms. This book is Shandean, endlessly trailing stray points, paragraphs organized around the oddest (but incredibly alluring) logic.
And sentences. Good lord. Screw Stanley Fish: I want McGuane to write a book about sentences.
And, despite the lack of a strong plot, there is an emotional heft. It's a book centered not in story or scene but in voice and sensibility, and on occasion Irving Berlin Pickett's good-hearted stupid flatfootedness gobsmacks me. For instance, when younger he loves a surrogate father, Dr. Olsson, who in turn loves him and also a lovely bird dog called Pie. So Berl, loving Olsson, wants to be Olsson, and against the rules takes Pie out for a long stroll, and loses her. McGuane had me crushed for a few paragraphs, as fearful and thunderstruck as Berl--at the loss of the dog, at the recognition of one's own deeprooted flaws, at the fear of losing the love of his fatherish Doctor....
But then I moved into the next chapter and laughed and delighted but also itched and moaned, wondering where the through-line had gone, and... I realized I'd better put this next to the bed and see above.