Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Thomas McGuane’s “Motherlode” was originally published in the September 8, 2014 issue of The New Yorker.


Another favorite author. We’ll have thoughts up soon.

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By |2014-09-01T00:09:25-04:00September 1st, 2014|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Thomas McGuane|Tags: |17 Comments


  1. Tredynas Days September 1, 2014 at 8:46 am

    Found this pretty disturbing: shades of Cormac McCarthy. The ending is a little disappointing, perhaps. But gritty and dark, with surprises all the way.

  2. Seth Guggenheim September 1, 2014 at 9:55 pm

    Agree, completely, with Tredynas Days. I won’t give away the ending, but I will say that, upon reflection, the word “symmetry” struck me as apt.

    Seth Guggenheim
    Washington, DC

  3. Tredynas Days September 2, 2014 at 1:19 pm

    Just read the author interview on ‘Page Turner’: he sees the story as a comedy, mentioning the Coen brothers (yes, I can see that), and ‘Nebraska’ (which I don’t know.) It is a kind of Montano ‘Fargo’, perhaps. Oddly enough I used to know some second generation Wyoming Basques, but that’s another story…

  4. Betsy Pelz September 3, 2014 at 5:50 am

    On vacation, but have to chime in – I hear Elmore Leonard, too. There’s a wild synergy when hapless schemers meet. Add in the internet and the Bakken Oil Field, and the possibilities multiply.

    I like the fact that “Dave” seems, at first, somewhat sensible. Slowly you realize that he’s allowed his life a double hi-jacking – first by staying home with his mother and then by his unleashed desire to escape his mother.

    I also like very much the way Weldon is still flying his plane despite his dotage – – that when words and common sense go, it’s not all necessarily over – there may still be another chapter. (They say people retain the ability to dance and play golf long after dementia has set in. Why not fly, too? or drive?)

    Dementia is a good parallel universe for an “oil rush”. Think of the people who are rushing to tap into the oil in Iraq, Syria, Nigeria, you name it.

  5. Tredynas Days September 3, 2014 at 4:02 pm

    ‘when hapless schemers meet’: sounds like a great title for a novel! The names in this story are intriguing, particularly Morsel.

  6. Ken September 7, 2014 at 5:03 pm

    Exactly because of all this story’s resemblances to the Coen Bros., Cormac McCarthy etc. I found it boring, loaded with that irritating kind of quirkiness which plagues many indie films, and a real chore to finish. I normally like McGuane’s stories a lot, but I can safely say that I hated this. What was more irritating–the condescending portrait of rural half-wits? The plastic gun? The clichéd last line (wow how original to say he can’t remember anything after he’s killed!). Yuck.

  7. Roger September 7, 2014 at 6:43 pm

    I’m with Ken. The story was a bore and a chore. Little causation, just events happening, like the drive to California and back to carry out an unrevealed scheme, and the ending with the missing motivation. This is what happens when a writer loses all compassion for his characters, though McGuane claims in the page-turner interview that he likes David. Implausible actions abound. The only believable motive is McGuane’s, whose axe can be heard throughout, grinding against energy development and Californians invading Montana.

    The plastic gun works as a metaphor for the entire story.

  8. Seth Guggenheim September 7, 2014 at 11:09 pm

    Certainly you and Ken make valid points. I guess my initial enthusiasm was based on the slow accretion of the protagonist’s descent from honest business person into the temptation toward corruption, coupled with the very interesting method of his determining whether a cow was pregnant. May were I a farm boy I would have enjoyed this story less!

  9. john boscarino September 8, 2014 at 2:59 am

    That ending was indicative of the story as a whole….unfortunately. Because it felt meaninglessness, tacked on. As if it was put there to serve as a bit of sly shock value. As stated by Ken the “clichéd last line” puts it over the top into hyperbole while all along it had been attempting some sort of ignorant, reserved and detached darkness. I get the McCarthy/Coen bros. comparisons, but if it resembles a house built by McCarthy and the Coens it’s a house without their grim guts in a world consumed by violence fated to an inevitable end.

  10. lotusgreen September 8, 2014 at 11:29 pm

    This story progressed at such a breakneck speed I needed a nice padded ending, not an actual broken neck. What was the point?

  11. Betsy September 9, 2014 at 8:47 am

    Most of the time I take a short story the way I do a dinner guest – someone’s made an effort – someone’s showed up – and once I’ve gotten to know someone I like to take their different iterations with a little detached pleasure – as long as they don’t trash the place or one of the other guests. I like knowing different sides of a person’s mind.

    The hero of this story dies in a transport of foolishness. I like that. How often I’ve come that close myself, one way or another.

  12. lotusgreen September 9, 2014 at 11:23 pm

    Betsy, that’s a wonderful perspective.

  13. Rod Owen September 26, 2014 at 11:30 pm

    I’m amazed at the criticisms levelled at the ending.
    Ken says: wow, how original to say that he can’t remember anything after being shot.
    But that’s not what the last line says – it says that he doesn’t feel a thing. See, he dies without feeling a thing.
    Surely you see the difference?
    The line also points to what David’s problem was in the first place.

    Then someone else wants “a nice padded ending”.
    What other dreadful modifications would satisfy your particular requirements?
    Perhaps we should simply have a long, long line of dots
    so we can all fashion our very own story………….

  14. lotusgreen September 27, 2014 at 5:09 pm

    Gee, Rod. But wait, no — you’re right! And now I can see the symmetry between him sticking his head into his trunk and sticking his arm up a cow’s ass.

  15. Madwomanintheattic October 3, 2014 at 3:53 pm

    I’m with Betsy, totally.

  16. flava feed October 17, 2014 at 7:10 pm

    The gun’s not plastic, just fake. They make fake guns in metal. They can have the heft and shape of a real gun. Cops shot people by mistake when idiots are seen carrying them all the time.

    In no way was this story a chore, nor was it predictable. I haven’t read many stories that provide such graphic detail of a cow pregnancy test. Ray’s another feckless con man, but not quite like any other one I’ve seen described in fiction. Having a plane drop out of the sky, land on the road you’re driving, only to tell you you’ve missed your turn seemed pretty damn original to me.

    McGuane’s still got the touch in my mind.

  17. […] opinions on this story abound: Grant Catton, Paul Debraski from I Just Read About That, and the gang at The Mookse and the Gripes contain astute comments. Apparently it’s similar in style to […]

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