(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Something to Be Desired, McGuane’s sixth novel, stands apart from his other novels in that the protagonist, Lucien Taylor, actually reaches a level of contentment and happiness—after abandoning his wife and young son. The “something to be desired,” though, turns out to be exactly what he gave up, a life of domestic contentment with his wife, Suzanne, and his young son, James. The discovery process is filled with debauchery and aimless behavior, accompanied by a gradual increase in common sense and maturity and a huge increase in personal wealth.

Lucien’s inability to tolerate contentment can be traced to his father, who ran off to Peru with a friend, Art Clancey. A high point in Lucien’s life occurred when his father “kidnapped” him from school to camp in the mountains above Deadrock, Montana. Although the trip was a failure in one sense (they spent two days without food or shelter wandering in search of their campsite), Lucien was thrilled to be doing something with his father. When he discovered that his wife had loved Art Clancey (now dead), the elder Taylor had walked out of the house for good, leaving Lucien and his mother dependent on alimony, child support, and handouts from relatives.

During a successful career with the United States Intelligence Agency in Latin America, Lucien returns to Montana without his wife and son to find a more romantic life. He is abandoning what is generally understood as the good...

(The entire section is 586 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

When Lucien Taylor in Thomas McGuane’s Something to Be Desired abruptly leaves his wife, child, and job to aid a former lover who has shot her abusive husband, his motives are not purely altruistic. He is restless and still finds Emily attractive. Eventually, he realizes that he desires neither adventure nor Emily but the love of his family; as he sets out to reclaim it, he acquires self-knowledge and a sense that his life finally has a “center” that makes it rewarding.

Something to Be Desired is divided into twenty chapters. Filled with Lucien’s memories, the third-person narrative is so closely focused on Lucien that it has the immediacy of a first-person tale.

In the first chapter, Lucien and his irresponsible father are entering the final, disastrous phase of their relationship. Long absent, the father has suddenly reappeared to take his son on an “adventure” camping trip. The boy and his father have been lost for two days. Before Lucien locates their campsite, they stumble upon and bathe in a hot spring.

Filled with self-pity, the father ends the trip abruptly. Lucien sees him pick up a prostitute along the way; the boy also watches him brutally strike his bitter and vengeful former wife before he leaves for good after a last drunken quarrel.

After years of living with his alcoholic and abusive mother, Lucien goes away to college, where he meets the other two women who will influence his life. Although he is obsessed with...

(The entire section is 618 words.)