Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The themes of Something to Be Desired are traditional and typical of McGuane’s work: the desire to be close to and to respect nature, the search for a way to deal with contemporary society’s corruption and materialism, and the desire to find stability in an unstable world while maintaining a sense of individuality in a culture that encourages sameness.

McGuane believes that “authentic” modern fiction has as its vantage point dislocation, and a sense of instability and displacement pervades the novel. From the beginning, Lucien has difficulty securing a footing on the shifting grounds of modern life. The failure of his parents’ marriage seems inevitable in a society where traditional moral and ethical codes of behavior are no longer in effect. He even finds his own happy marriage unsatisfying and seems to value it only when he must run enormous risks to regain it.

The theme of dislocation and instability is also apparent in Lucien’s realization that the romantic image he had of the Old West, the last outpost of new beginnings, is now insupportable. Schooled in its myths, Lucien grew up admiring a variety of rugged individualists, heroes such as Lord Nelson, Vasco da Gama, Theodore Roosevelt, and the anonymous ranchers and cowhands who created new lives for themselves in the frontier. He has always valued an Emersonian self-reliance, and he occasionally tries to adhere to certain codes of behavior (he admires Suzanne for her...

(The entire section is 432 words.)