This is day seven of my Month of Short Stories – a story a day for June.
George Saunders is a writer that I’ve heard a lot of good things about, but have never been able to sit down and read yet. Mary Karr, in Time Magazine (in its 2013 list of the 100 most influential people) says, “For more than a decade, George Saunders has been the best short-story writer in English — not “one of,” not “arguably,” but the Best.”
Well, that certainly sounds like a recommendation.
In particular, I had wanted to read his collection, Pastoralia, and am not sure why I hadn’t. Therefore, I was happy to find today’s short story, Sea Oak, – one of the selections from Pastoralia – online, served up on a glowing, rectangular platter courtesy of the Barcelona Review.
I’m going to have to read more by George Saunders – I am not yet convinced – though I feel there is some greatness here.
I should like this more than I did. It’s amazingly well written, extremely imaginative, and exquisitely crude. The problem is that he has set himself up as a satirist of our modern world – and to satire reality television, rampant consumerism, spreading idiocracy, and the general breakdown of society into a foam of ridiculousness… well, welcome to my life. That stuff is sort of self-satirizing.
To make something like this worth your while, even as funny, sad, and well-written as it is – you have to care about the characters. At least one of them. Sea Oak… well, I almost cared, but every time I began to think about these as real people, the author would throw in another witty flourish, push the freakiness up one notch, turn everything up to eleven. I don’t mean that in a bad way, really… but it left me a little cold.
Maybe I was too tired when I was reading. After a day fighting futilely, desperately, and hopelessly against the very subjects of his fiction – it was wearing to have it thrown right back in my face.
So maybe I’ll rest up and read some more George Saunders… I know I will and I’ll almost certainly enjoy it more. I’ll let you know.
At Sea Oak there’s no sea and no oak, just a hundred subsidized apartments and a rear view of FedEx. Min and Jade are feeding their babies while watching How My Child Died Violently. Min’s my sister. Jade’s our cousin. How My Child Died Violently is hosted by Matt Merton, a six-foot-five blond who’s always giving the parents shoulder rubs and telling them they’ve been sainted by pain. Today’s show features a ten-year-old who killed a five-year-old for refusing to join his gang. The ten-year-old strangled the five-year-old with a jump rope, filled his mouth with baseball cards, then locked himself in the bathroom and wouldn’t come out until his parents agreed to take him to FunTimeZone, where he confessed, then dove screaming into a mesh cage full of plastic balls. The audience is shrieking threats at the parents of the killer while the parents of the victim urge restraint and forgiveness to such an extent that finally the audience starts shrieking threats at them too. Then it’s a commercial.
—-Sea Oak, George Saunders