Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 618
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 Emily’s beauty and passion, she leaves him to marry the other man with whom she has been having an affair. Lucien then meets and marries the beautiful Suzanne, who is as principled, generous, and stabilizing as Emily is unprincipled, selfish, and unsettling.
Common sense tells Lucien that Suzanne is Emily’s superior. Nevertheless, he is troubled by a “lack of high romance in his life.” When they learn that Emily has shot her husband, he abandons his family and goes to Emily’s ranch near the spring in Deadrock. While he admits that his behavior has begun “the process of stain” in him, Lucien also sees himself as carrying out a mission, part of which is to have Emily love him again, a feat he thinks he can accomplish by rescuing her—paying her bail. The doubts of Emily’s lawyer, Wick Tompkins, about her chances and character are confirmed when Emily disappears with W. T. Austinberry, the hired hand.
Left alone with the ranch, Lucien engages in a halfhearted affair with the unhappily married Dee. He begins to recognize that he is on the road to loneliness. After spending a year in a despairing, alcohol-induced daze, he announces that he is “going to start something tremendous.” Encouraged by Wick, he decides to transform the ranch and its spring into a spa. When the resort is hugely successful, Lucien calls Suzanne to tell her. Cautious but hopeful, she agrees to bring James to visit Lucien, who is “head over heels in love.”
Lucien continues the process of self-discovery. He reflects on his own mortality and on the importance of tradition and continuity. He realizes that he is not interested in making even more money, and his desire to provide his son with a sense of security continues to grow.
Lucien has other trials to undergo. Although James comes around, Suzanne does not. Dee announces that she is leaving, and Emily reappears, carrying a gun. Finally unmoved by her, aware that she could destroy his life, Lucien informs Suzanne of her arrival and tells Emily that she must leave. Partly in anger, Suzanne concludes her visit; while James twists around to wave goodbye, Suzanne “keeps her eyes on the road.”
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