Thomas McGuane has a style of writing that makes his May 3. 2021 New Yorker short story a pleasure to read, but "Balloons" is unfortunately a rather trivial piece of work. In the usual New Yorker author interview, McGuane talks about how he began writing the story without knowing how it would end, but thanks to a dream, something came to mind. Too bad.
Sex, in the familiar triangular configuration, serves as the framework for a rather simple-minded plot: a man depicted as a bore and a buffoon in his seemingly successful prime degenerates into a pathetic mess when his unfaithful life leaves him. But guess what? He ultimately has the last laugh on his predator -- a man who views himself as on a considerably higher plane.
An unexpected development -- the subject of the dream -- serves to give the story a twist, but it could have been used to much better advantage.There is an early signal that trouble looms ahead in the form of a discussion among the three characters about a mugging. The bore insists that a victim has every right to retaliate. That's about the only topic we learn as to what McGuane's characters might think about, together or separately. They are, shall we say, rather uninteresting.