Big sky, small lives
There comes a point in every examined life that one can’t avoid looking back at a whole series of choices and coming to grips with what RL, the late-middle-aged protagonist of Kevin Canty’s Everything sees: “All those people he could have been. All those hundreds of doors closing, one by one, until there was just the one door left, the last one.” Canty’s no stranger to the midlife crisis; his last novel, 2005’s Winslow in Love, wrestled with the same existential questions that seem to face men of a certain age in our post-John Wayne, post-Alan Alda era. Cynicism and heroism, duty, guilt, and hope wrap in a stranglehold around one another like the briar and the rose. Like many of his kind, RL sees his salvation in the opposite sex, in this case a trio of women bound intimately to his existence. One is his daughter, Layla, a college student making her way out into a wider world for the first time. The second, June, is the widow of RL’s long-deceased best friend, ready to break out of her decade-plus sleepwalk. And to close out the trio, ex-girlfriend Betsy reappears in RL’s life, hoping for a little moral support in a long-odds fight against cancer. Much like Raymond Carver, Canty has a finely tuned ear for emotional nuance, and paints his characters with small, deft strokes rather than a broad brush. Their individual mini-dramas are skillfully contrasted with the seemingly limitless expanse of the novel’s backdrop, the big sky country of Montana. Maybe it’s the emptiness of that night sky that leads a man to feel like “the edge of town that trails off into tank farms and trailer parks and switching yards, a wilderness of cold steel . . . not even hell, but just abandoned, uncared for.” But even on those blackest of nights, Canty leaves out a North Star to guide his weary wanderer to a better place, and us with him.
Thane Tierney lives in Los Angeles, and numbers Montana among the five states he has not yet visited.