"The Casserole"
by Thomas McGuane
Originally published in the September 10, 2012 issue of The New Yorker.

The New Yorker seems to be in the mood to spoil us. Munro, Boyle, and now McGuane, all great short story writers. This week’s is barely four columns long, so it takes only a moment to read. While I do feel this is one of the more simple stories we’ve had in this bunch, it’s still impressive how much McGuane fits into the short space.

The narrator of “The Casserole” and his wife, Ellie, are just about to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. When the story begins, they are waiting for a ferry to help them cross the water to Ellie’s parents’ ranch, where they are planning to celebrate their 25 years.

As I said, it’s a short story, and the basic events are few and rather simple. What makes it worth reading and thinking about is the narrator’s confidence in himself and in his understanding of their marriage. He’s certain that he and his wife are on the same page on a number of subjects. For example, children:

Twenty-five years and no children: her parents had stopped interrogating us about that. They assumed that it was a physical problem that some clinic could solve, but we didn’t want children. We lacked the courage to tell them that. We both liked children; we just didn’t want any ourselves.

And related to the subject of children, who will take over the ranch now that Ellie’s parents are getting too old?

But even if my wife had had siblings she would not have been part of this sort of trouble, as she had never — at least, not since adolescence — wanted to pursue ranch life, rural life, agricultural life. She would have said to a sibling, “Take it! It’s all yours. I’m out of here.” There would have been an element of posturing in this, because she was very attached to the land; she just didn’t want to own it or do anything with it. Neither did I.

Yet Ellie gets increasingly anxious as they close the distance to the ranch. We learn that there are other complex reasons for this excitement, but we can’t help but wonder how much this narrator has imposed his own ideal on to his wife. We know she has always wanted to use the little money they make teaching to go on more vacations, but he prides himself in keeping it all in line. How often has he disregarded her dreams, excusing himself because he thinks he’s just keeping her in line?

By the time we get to the end of “The Casserole,” we are not too shocked by and maybe even expected what we find there. Some may find it quaint, but there is much to this story. It seems to me it is mostly about revealing to us the character of the narrator — his self-regard, his control, his complacency, his delusions, his ultimate nonchalance in the face of getting his casserole, his response at the end to the people on the ferry. Recommended.

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By |2016-07-28T22:52:57-04:00September 3rd, 2012|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Thomas McGuane|Tags: |4 Comments


  1. Ken September 24, 2012 at 4:09 am

    You said it perfectly in the last paragraph. I loved this. A short story that doesn’t try to tackle the world but is perfectly fitted to its length and to the short story form. This is a jewel and the ending is masterfully led up to.

  2. Madwomanintheattic September 30, 2012 at 12:04 pm

    Bah humbug. While agreeing that the complexities of the narrator are carefully delineated, I find nothing else except McGuane’s reputation that would mark this tidbit for publication. So the narrator is a self-satisfied tightwad, and his wife is unhappy and there’s an ending that surprises no one but him, so what? The description of the parents’ costumes is intriguing but goes nowhere.

  3. Trevor September 30, 2012 at 4:33 pm

    I would publish it. It certainly isn’t about what happens but rather about one man’s inability to see what’s happening. I love how in the end, he is already defensive and creating his own ideas about what happened again. He controls people and he controls himself. It is a tidbit, but it is a brilliant tidbit in my opinion.

  4. Aaron December 7, 2012 at 4:17 am

    I agree that this is publishable, if for nothing other than the masterful use of an oblivious first-person narrator (and the clever way in which it shifts from an assumed “we” to a more and more distant “I”). But I’m somewhat in the same camp as Madwomanintheattic when it comes to the conclusion: given how much is unreliable or assumed long before we get to the ranch and the titular casserole, what am I really taking away from this story? Is it nothing more than a warning to those of us who aren’t nearly as observant as we might/should be? More, but not much more, here: http://bit.ly/Xxo2mC

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