“Texas” by David Gates

To my knowledge, “Texas” by David Gates (January 22nd issue of the New Yorker), is the first short story published by the venerated fiction writer since the release of his latest collection A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me (Knopf 2015). The collection is comprised of stories and a novella that were published over the course of a twelve year period, in places such as the aforementioned New Yorker, but also Tin House, GQ, Ploughshares, Paris Review, and Granta. There’s a reason for Gates’s consistent inclusion in these top-tier literary journals and magazines. Simply put, he’s one of the best. And “Texas” is a much anticipated follow-up for those of us who know — and love — his work.

“Texas” takes place in upstate New York, and features a man, Garver, whose “children had left home” and his wife had “made her escape to Italy.” Garver is alone, an artist, and enjoys a host of pleasures — music, cannabis, baseball, and whiskey. But he’s alone, and in need of money, and when a nice, unsuspecting artist-couple, with a kid, are searching for a place to rent/live, away from the City, Garver acknowledges to himself, about the couple, “You’ll do.”

The couple: Ben is a composer with an NEA grant and a weakness for weed. Lois is a writer with an MFA from Columbia. The couple have a daughter who has “pudgy legs” and still uses a car seat. The family takes a liking to Garver, but their affections are short lived.

What unfolds is a host of complications between the threesome, starting with Garver’s and Ben’s mutual affection for weed, and Lois’s motivation to keep Ben off of it. But it becomes more than that, and as Garver’s intentions are subtly revealed, the story takes on a needling kind of menace. Only the kind that Gates can create through sharp details and pitch-perfect dialogue — all rolled out for us in a timely, nuanced fashion.

We do eventually get to Texas, the actual state, and it is there, at the end of the story, where Garver confronts his daughter, “the only one of the kids who still kept in touch” to find out what she thinks of him. It’s a poignant moment for Garver who, after this brief conversation with Emma, his daughter, resorts back to what has always comforted him.

Read the story here.

And a great interview with Gates, about the story, here.