Skip to main content

New Yorker Fiction Review: "Motherlode" by Thomas McGuane

Issue: Sept. 8th, 2014

Story: "Motherlode"

Author: Thomas McGuane

Rating: Triple Meh

Review: You're not going to find someone under the age of 50 more willing to defend Tom McGuane than myself. I was introduced to his books in my late teens by my father, right around the time when I was getting into Hunter S. Thompson. McGuane's early stuff sounded, to me, like the kind of fiction HST would've written had he dedicated his life to fiction and not journalism, and so I loved it. Even if his later novels have gotten a little prosey and difficult to get through, his early works like The Sporting Club and Ninety-Two in the Shade are among my all-time favorite books; the books that have made and will make every move with me no matter where I go or if I ever read them again. I get positively giddy every time I see his name on the ToC of the New Yorker, because I know I'm in for a good yarn about lovably dysfunctional characters living in rural worlds that time has mostly forgotten, usually doing cool things I never get to do like hiking, fishing, hunting, roping cattle, etc. as part of their daily lives.

With that said...this story was a slog. I don't know if this was Tom McGuane attempting to write a noir story or just pulling something out of the dusty desk drawer and slapping a couple stamps on it, but this did not work for me.

Why? Tom McGuane is a writer of Literature, with a capital L. Among other ways, I define literature as writing in which the Plot takes a back seat to the development of character, either through the character's internal monologue or by how the narrator dives into the character's mind. There are other definitions, sure, but suffice it to say, that's the definition I'm working off of here. And in that sense, this story fails to do either one; McGuane is trying to write a plot-driven noir type story but it just doesn't come-off well. Not that it's over-burdened with character development, he just doesn't seem to be comfortable in the plot-driven vein. Which is actually a compliment.

Specifically, the way he handles time leaves something to be desired. The pacing of this story was a little screwed up and there were two instances when this almost lost me as a reader. Actually, it did lose me as a reader, but as I've anointed myself the resident NYer fiction reviewer, I have to read all of every story or my analysis doesn't count.

I didn't know what the main character, David, was all about or whether or not I should like him. I was confused about the scam that Ray, the main villian in the story, was trying to pull off, and even when I did figure it out, it didn't seem very complex or very interesting. Frankly the only interesting thing about this story was the last line, a neat cliffhanger that--as is the definition of cliffhanger--leaves the reader in doubt about what will happen next. Not a great deal of doubt, mind you, but doubt nonetheless. But overall the ending still seemed un-earned.

I don't know...McGuane is a regular NYer fiction writer, and so he steps up to the plate 3-5 times per year. He's going to throw up a dud every once in a while. This story will not change my opinion of Tom McGuane's writing one iota and, if it's your first time reading his stuff, I recommend you forget about this one and try again. It'll be worth it.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

New Yorker Fiction Review: "The Apologizer" by Milan Kundera

Issue: May 4, 2015

Rating: $$

Review: It took me five years and three separate attempts to finish Milan Kundera's famous novel, The Unbearable Lightness of Being, but in spite of that, quotes and insights from that book still rattle round my head on a weekly basis. What I mean to say is: my feelings on Kundera are very similar to my feelings on Haruki Murakami. I enjoy reading his work, but in small doses, like this short story.

Like Murakami, Kundera uses elements of magical realism, but where in a Murakami story you might encounter a flying dolphin or a disappearing hotel or a person who has lived his whole life in the same room, refusing to leave, Kundera's magical realism offers more direct insights and perspective on real life.

In Kundera's worlds, time and space are malleable and everything that ever happened in history is happening at the same time, and the narrator is a completely omniscient, caring, witty, and hands-on god-like being.

And so it is with "The Apo…

New Yorker Fiction Reviews: "Meet the President!" by Zadie Smith

Each week I review the short fiction from a recent issue of The New Yorker. If you told me when I was 12 that I'd be doing this I'd have been like, "Dork. There's no such thing as blogs," and I'd have been right...

Issue: Aug. 12 & 19, 2013

Story: "Meet the President!"

Author:Zadie Smith

(Please note: I've developed a highly sophisticated grading system, which I'll be using from now on.  Each story will now receive a Final Grade of either READ IT or DON'T READ it. See the bottom of the review for this story's grade...after you've read the review, natch.)

Plot: Set in England, far into the future (lets say 2113) a privileged youth of 15, named Bill Peek, encounters a few poor villagers from a small, abandoned coastal town on the southeast shore. He meets a little girl named Aggie, who is going to her sister's funeral. Peek is cut-off from real life by a sophisticated video game system that is implanted in his head, therefore th…

A Piece of Advice I Learned From My Grandfather

My grandfather was one of the most learned men I know. He read widely and voraciously, and not just in the sciences (he was a doctor); he loved politics, philosophy, and great literature as well. Whenever he finished a book he would write his thoughts about the book in the front cover and then sign and date it. To this day every once in a while I will open a book from my bookshelf or my mother's bookshelf, or at one of my family members' homes, and there will be my grandfather's handwriting. He was also a great giver of his books; if you remarked that you liked a particular one or wanted to read it, you were almost sure to take it home with you.

Reading is a very solitary pursuit but my grandfather was not a solitary person. He relished having family and friends around him which is convenient because he was blessed with a lot of both. And he carried out his intellectual life in a very "public" way as well. He was, in some ways, an intellectual evangelist. If he r…