Something to Be Desired by Thomas McGuane

The Tennessean, November 11, 1984, page 6-D

SOMETHING TO BE DESIRED. By Thomas McGuane. Random House. $14.95

McGuane Novel Deliberately Frustrates

Reviewed by JOHN BETHUNE

Looking at the marriage altar of Admiral Nelson on the Caribbean island of Nevis, Lucien Taylor makes a crucial discovery: His life is dull.

The revelation nearly ruins him.

Lucien decides to leave his wife Suzanne and their little boy and return to his hometown in Montana to bail out Emily, an early flame who spurned him for the man she has recently murdered. Scarcely grateful, she jilts him again, preferring to jump bail with one of her ranch hands.

As compensation, she leaves him her ranch and its mineral spring, which Lucien, following a period of dissipation, turns into a successful resort.

After he convinces Suzanne to visit his resort with their son, he begins a tenuous but persistent attempt to reunite the family. Disturbing news of Emily reaches him, however, and once again he must make a fateful decision.

In this his sixth novel, Thomas McGuane aims to balance the desire for adventure with the need for family happiness. This is in some ways a deliberately frustrating book, tempting the reader, as Lucien is tempted, with the promise of adventure, but consistently denying it.

McGuane’s point is that the desire for “high romance” is essentially childish, unless it is tempered by an acceptance of responsibility. From a writer of McGuane’s stature and reputation, one who has written in the Hemingway tradition of masculine independence and adventure, this is a striking assertion.

What results is a modest novel, subdued yet carefully crafted, witty, generous and self-deprecating. Something To Be Desired is an affecting story about a peculiarly American subject: growing up in middle age.

John Bethune is a free-lance writer from Sewanee, Tenn.