"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.