Vicious Circle by Thomas McGuane, 2006
The magic trick:
Presenting a series of unanswered questions, plot incongruities and oddities to create a mood of anxiety and melancholia
I love stories that blur the real and the imagined in some kind of hazy dream world. Stuart Dybek is probably my favorite magician specializing in such a trick, but plenty of authors excel with this technique, and “Vicious Circle” manages it well.
Much of the story is actually pretty straightforward. John Briggs is lonely. John Briggs meets a woman. She struggles with alcoholism. Their relationship fails to take off. He sees her much later on her wedding day.
But even as a basic plot framework that should raise some red flags, right?
There are some pretty big gaps and jumps there. The story marches on only occasionally pointing out the inconsistencies. And strange things happen. There is a rattlesnake bite and a possibly imagined visit of Olivia – Briggs’ desperate crush – as a nurse. There is the whole very strange matter of Olivia’s adoptive father, the maybe-disgraced former doctor. It’s an odd mix and one that adds up to a satisfyingly anxious melancholia. And that’s quite a trick on McGuane’s part.
She recognized him first and covered her mouth with her hands. “I wondered if I’d see you again. I so have to apologize to you! I completely and utterly thought you were someone else.”
“Don’t give it a thought,” Briggs said with reserve. He added, “I gather you took a number of other people for someone else.”
This puzzled her. “No, just you.”
“I was led to think otherwise. Guess it’s my turn to apologize.”
“Can we call it even-Steven?”