Click here to read the story in its entirety on The New Yorker webpage. Thomas McGuane's "The Driver" was originally published in the September 28, 2015 issue of The New Yorker.

It’s always wonderful to see Thomas McGuane show up in The New Yorker, though I’m a bit surprised to see a new one by him show up so soon after the publication of his latest collection earlier this year, even if it is quite short. I guess he’ll just keep them coming, which is fine by me.

Please join in the conversation below! Let us know how you felt about the story or McGuane in general.

Here are Adrienne’s thoughts to kick it off!

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 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 perspective. “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 and 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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By |2015-09-21T16:27:03-04:00September 21st, 2015|Categories: New Yorker Fiction, Thomas McGuane|Tags: |9 Comments


  1. Joe September 26, 2015 at 9:00 pm

    Wow. I wish there were a way for us to read these stories blindly without the subconscious pre-judgment we give stories when we see who wrote them. I came in expecting genius and wondered, after reading, where on earth we are with literature. SO MUCH of our discussion of art, lit, music is predicated on the pre-knowledge of excellence or mediocrity we have of the creator and I, for one, am tired of my own inability (or the by design presentation, with author byline) to judge a piece based wholly on merit. Adrienne’s first point about the mother not having actually had the kid in the car during that rant was my first point of contention. And then my confusion that followed through the rest of the story left me uncomfortable, wishing I were smarter.

    Then I finished the story, wondered why I was so unimpressed.

    Then I reread it and spotted the genius in the craft and redirection and juxtaposition, if not (at all) in the prosody.

    Then I (writer me) said, “Oh, yes. Yes. My oh my, there are things to learn from here.”

    Then another read, closer, with pen marks, arrows, marginalia, even a few exclamation points. The end at the beginning – YES. The play on POV – WOW. The toying with genre – NEAT. The nod to absurdity – !!!.

    Then a feeling like I’d conquered the Sunday NYT crossword.

    Then, a certain knowledge that this story didn’t stick to my ribs, won’t.

    Then, a longing wish for a story that drives its way into my cells, reforms me, performs a little alchemy, something that happens only on every hundredth (thousandth?) read.

  2. White Freckles September 28, 2015 at 4:11 am

    Reading this week’s fiction on The New Yorker, Mr. McGuane seemed like an ’80s new wave band who’s new LP, though decent in every aspect, comes off stale solely because of its (or perhaps, his?) supposed irrelevancy. Or maybe irrelevancy isn’t the right word for it. The hooks and bars are all there, guiding the story down a smooth road, its driver pointing out all the roadside attractions with surprising accuracy. It sounds fun, sure. There’s nothing wrong with the road, it’s just that by now the ride’s become boring.

    Mr. McGuane’s been writing shorts regularly for the The New Yorker since 1994, he’s written 10 novels, 4 screenplays and has indulged in other nonfiction and short fiction projects as well. His “mastery of language” is evident in “The Driver”. On surface level, the story appears near perfectly constructed, with all its twists and turns. There’s also a cool pun at play, if you get giggles from that sorta stuff.

    The dialogue at the beginning between the Headmaster and Mrs. Quantrill seemed stiff. There’s something wrong with Spencer. He’s struggling and needs to be put in “Special Ed.” The mom, Mrs Quantrill, ain’t having it. Not with her kid. She storms out, saying, “Over my dead body”. Her kid’s gonna go to some other school if it comes to that, but never to Special Ed. For a split second I thought she might just go Forrest Gump with the headmaster. That would have been ew.

    The only enjoyable part of the story was when Mommy drove away without Spencer, rambling, thinking he had followed her into the car. But he didn’t. And this is where, fun ends. Spencer’s all alone and tries to walk home. Sees stranger. Stranger tries to get him home. He won’t say where he lives because he can’t. It’s supposed to be comic in some sick way but it isn’t. It’s not even sad. It’s out of place, and reads like the writer paid more attention to the underlying theme, whatever that might be, at the cost of muddying the story up, rendering it appalling to stomach.

    I can appreciate Mr. McGuane’s prose alright, and he no doubt has written many good stories—this one just doesn’t seem to be among them.

    RATING: 4/10


  3. Roger September 28, 2015 at 8:10 pm

    I will be the skunk tonight: I found the mother to be a cartoon, never believable for a moment, and the story to be a weak effort by McGuane to inveigh against those bad, dumb rich people who use their Montana land for energy leases rather than raising cattle. Yawn. Next.

  4. Greg September 28, 2015 at 9:12 pm

    Thank you Adrienne, Joe and Roger for giving me three different perspectives…….and I can’t wait to see what Sean will say!

  5. Trevor Berrett September 29, 2015 at 12:45 pm

    Hi White Freckles — and welcome! I missed moderating your comment yesterday, so today it’s a bit buried, but I hope folks will go up a few and read your thoughts.

  6. Greg September 30, 2015 at 8:12 am

    Thank you “White Freckles” (cool name!) for emphasizing how great the part was when the Mom drove away from the school without her son because she was so absorbed in her rant!

  7. Sean H October 1, 2015 at 4:07 am

    A bizarre and brilliant allegory about how families are always rising and falling in America as McGuane deconstructs various “drivers” of our socio-economic reality including empire, legacy, genetics, class, irony, religion, folklore, homelessness, the educational system, and how good Samaritans and do-gooders and people who break up fights (or nations which do the same on a global scale) are usually the ones who take it on the chin. Great stuff, structurally ingenious in a way that both accommodates and encourages, a winning and hyper-efficient blast of black comedy.

    Favorite moments and random notes:
    Bayreuth=Buy-Rite (LOL!)
    Spencer’s name is a pretty clear reference to social Darwinism/survival of the fittest
    Mrs. Quantrill might be descended from William Quantrill, yes?
    “Where are we headed, young man” — Yes, where are we (America) headed, indeed
    The driver says “Get the fuck out now before I hit you over the head” and Spencer’s reaction is “The driver was a nice man.” (also LOL!)
    Great closing image for a final laugh as what’s more American than lowbrow deceit? Jesus’s face on a piece of toast. Cheap breast implants. Aluminum siding. UFO sightings. Elvis is still alive. Someone artificially claiming to have found a giant hailstone.

  8. Greg October 1, 2015 at 10:19 am

    Thank you Sean for once again sharing your insights, and for spending the time in listing your favourite items. You have made me want to read this story again! I agree with you that the following was hilarious:

    “The driver says, “Get the fuck out now before I hit you over the head” and Spencer’s reaction is, “The driver was a nice man.”

  9. Ken December 10, 2015 at 4:59 am

    This should have remained a dream. I found its awkward quirkiness irritating. McGuane is usually really good, but this one and the last he did have been subpar

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