Click here to read the abstract of the story on The New Yorker webpage (this week’s story is available only for subscribers). Thomas McGuane’s “Weight Watchers” was originally published in the November 4, 2013 issue of The New Yorker.
I love Thomas McGuane, so I’m thrilled to see another story by him in this week’s issue. I’ll have thoughts up here soon.
I love this story. Thomas McGuane is wry, dry, and dead serious. I love the combination.
The tone of this story works its effects on you sentence by sentence, and everything about this story is too good to waste. What I mean is, go no further here before you read this story.
“Weight Watchers” tells the story of a family in the blink of an eye; it’s oddly like some advice about how to deal with Thanksgiving: listen from a decent distance, with love, accept what you hear, with love, take a deep breath, notice the distance; repeat.
The narrator is a guy who’s educated but does construction, a guy who says, “I like to be tired. In some ways, that’s the point of what I do.” Part of the tone is in the measured acceptance and distance with which this man treats his completely dysfunctional, interesting mother and father, and part of what appeals about the tone is the way he treats his readers. This is a man who, considering his parents, should be curled up in a ball, incapacitated and howling. Instead, he loves his work. Perhaps he has chosen to love his work.
I feel a certain kinship with this fellow: I just spent eight days at a comfortable hunting lodge in Maine and most of the hunters reminded me of this guy. Hunting woodcock in Maine is so difficult it boggles the mind and exhausts the body. The hunters there all put in an eight hour day trying to pry the woodcock loose from a forest so thick it must have been what the authors of Sleeping Beauty had in mind when they told about how her castle was girded with thorns. We all, known by just our first names, sat every night at a long communal table to eat a fine meal, which we inhaled before tumbling out of the hall to sleep the sleep of the just. My husband, being a prince, thinks I’m good company, so he takes me on his hunting trips where I take pictures. We both shoot birds, so to speak. This place we went has no cell phone coverage and not very much wifi. All of the other hunters were there solo, living out a temporary few days of life on the river, away, away, away, and tumbling into bed each night, like the narrator, too tired to think.
“I have a cell phone,” says the guy talking to us from Thomas McGuane’s wonderful story, “but I only use it to call out.”
With holidays coming up, this narrator’s very messy origins and his attitude toward it satisfy, much the way reading about the life of the Zen monk can sometimes satisfy. Reading it, you believe, even if only for a minute, that it can be done.
Not only do I like McGuane’s wild portrait of the American family, I like the way he lets us consider our recent heritage — the Vietnam War, the rust belt, the (necessary) return to basics.
I also liked so much the way I only noticed when I sat down to write that I didn’t know the narrator’s name — a fitting situation for a self-effacing man with a capacity for forgiveness.
“Weight Watchers” is about all the different kinds of weight a person could do well to shed — rage, the urge to whine, ineffectiveness, the media room, insomnia. But it’s also about if you’re able to shed those things — you might be talking about being a monk. Most of us are only able to do it a few minutes at a time.