This story can be found in the September 28, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.
This review can also be seen on The Mookse and the Gripes.
First Line: "Mrs. Quantrill lived in a beautiful old Prairie-style house built in the twenties, which she had restored to its original elegance with Mr. Quantrill, a patent attorney attached to Montana's burgeoning natural-gas industry."
Last Line: "A widow up at Ten Mile went on TV with a hailstone the size of a grapefruit, but subsequent investigation revealed it to be something from her freezer."
I live in a rural town out West and today was “ditch-day”. I could not curl up with this story, hold it in my hand, and let the print dazzle me. I had to listen to it on SoundCloud as I traipsed through short, slicing yellow grasses, willing the irrigation water to move further across the orchard.
This rather uninspiring activity allowed me to be more than “wowed” by McGuane’s obvious mastery and skill. I became consumed. I found metaphors, themes, connections, imagery, and methodology galore!
Now I know I am an optimist and I like to cheer for almost any story, but there was so much going on in this short piece that I listened twice, and even ignored the ditch for twenty minutes to read it through one time.
Spencer’s silence in school elicits a meeting between his mother, the “tallest person in the room and very thin, with unblinking blue eyes”, the principal, and the struggling boy, himself. Special ed is the proposed to solution and Mrs. Quantrill responds by insisting that some time in Bavaria will “cure” her son.
The narrator takes us to their car for the mother’s hen-pecking and elitist soliloquy. Only when we reach the end of the paragraph do we realize that she has forgotten her son! She was so wrapped up in her own judgments and thoughts, her own superiority, that she has not even seen her child! It is here, also, that we discover our narrator is third person omniscient – not limited, as we might have supposed.
In this story, we are introduced to the concept of things not always being what we think they are based on our limited perspectives. “Subsequent investigation” is often necessary.
Spencer starts walking, now that he’s alone. Home? We don’t now know. Just that he has decided to walk. And here we meet “the driver” – at this point, I had forgotten the title and was so wrapped up in the neat little “tricks” McGuane had already employed.
The interchanges between the driver and the boy further show that things are not always as they appear. The driver has a schema that is challenged. He tries to do the right thing. And there are evidences of “too quick to judge” in the resulting events.
The ending of the story isn’t in the last sentences of the last paragraph. It is in the last sentences of the first paragraph. Spencer inherits the house, has it “demolished” and turned into a storage unit facility. Are things what they appear, even here? Is the demolition due to an “acting out” of an older, neglected Spencer – or is it an acceptable, adult decision by a man who wants to move on?
Again, I am just enthralled with the craft of this story. There is so much more here to talk about! If only there wasn’t a ditch to watch!
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