This appears to be a story studied in class, given that a couple of Q&A websites have posted questions like: “How does ‘The Parable of the Prodigal Son’ compare / contrast with ‘The Gift of the Prodigal?’” While I’m not terribly interested in directly comparing the two, it’s inescapable that the Taylor story is playing with the prodigal son archetype.
The story’s about a father and his son, Ricky. The father’s retired, and his daughters have left home and become respectable women long ago. But he can’t help but thinking of Ricky as a boy, even though he’s, “a man twenty-nine years old, with two divorces already and no doubt another coming up soon.”
The story starts with the father hearing Ricky’s car approach his drive, and much of it is about thinking over choice indiscretions in Ricky’s past. A cockfight, busted up by the police moments after the deputy slipped away. Trying to outsmart someone who sold him a dud polo horse. A complicated tangle of cheating partners that leads to Ricky punching someone he didn’t think he was punching.
There’s a real sense of entertainment to these reminiscences, so that even though the father knows Ricky is coming to bemoan the latest trouble he’s landed himself in, part of the father is vicariously fascinated. Much like the reader.
The Gift of the Prodigal by Peter Taylor
Availability: print only, unless you have a New Yorker subscription
Word count: 6,600
First published: The New Yorker, June 1 1981
Where to find it: If you have a subscription to the New Yorker, you can access it on their website here:
The Old Forest and other stories, collection, 1985, The Dial Press