Thomas McGuane: “Stars” from TNY, 6/24/13

TNY Art by Chris Steele-Perkins

TNY Art by Chris Steele-Perkins

The bubbles in the plunge pool reminded her of the stars she had fallen in love with so long ago, years before she became an astronomer and began to spend her days analyzing solar data…. The stars were no longer a mystery to her; these bubbles would have to do.

The first time I read this story through, it scared me to death. I’d just gone off on the building super, and even as I exploded, I realized I was over the edge; yet I couldn’t stop. After, when I’d apologized (it’s so much easier to just not blow up in the first place), and I read the story for the second time to grab quotes, I found it hilarious. I’m pretty sure that’s more about me than about the story. But I’m probably not the one to judge.

Jessica is an astronomer who no longer loves the stars. Now she’s into wolves. There’s a symbol shift you can hang your hat on, y’think? Following an encounter in the woods with a trapper who’s about to shoot a wolf, she gets angrier and angrier, and it comes out more and more sideways. She brakes to annoy a tailgater, knowing the law favors her. She’s astonishingly rude to her sort-of-boyfriend’s father, criticizing his liquor supply and refusing to show polite interest in his fishing pole collection. She regrets that last later, but by then, “… it was too late now to pour love on the fishing poles.” She sees an anger specialist, and finds herself annoyed by his trivial shortcomings.

“Honey, can’t you hear those chainsaws coming?”

I love Jessica. She’s mad as hell, and she’s not taking it any more. I get truly worried about my amusement when I read words like “misanthrope” at The Mookse and the Gripes or “not very likeable” at Perpetual Folly. Make her an older man and change the writing just a smidge, and she could be a loveable curmudgeon. Instead she’s a “douche-cannon.”

Jessica kept walking into winter.

In his Page-Turner interview, McGuane says: “If slavery is the primal sin of Southern literature, the war on nature is the sin of the West. Jessica has experienced this sin point blank, has absorbed its impact, and is beginning to display its consequences, which become scars and are enduring.” I think he’s made that point very well in his story. Instead of a raisin in the sun, Jessica is a star who might have gone dark, but instead, super-novas. It’s interesting he chose to limit this to the American West, when in fact it’s a larger problem. You think Jessica’s a bitch – she’s nothing compared to Mother Nature, the ultimate douche-cannon who always gets the last word.

2 responses to “Thomas McGuane: “Stars” from TNY, 6/24/13

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