The last two years, for the month of June, I wrote about a short story that was available online each day of the month… you can see the list for 2014 and 2015 in the comments for this page. It seemed like a good idea at the time. My blog readership fell precipitously and nobody seemed to give a damn about what I was doing – which was a surprising amount of work.
Because of this result, I’m going to do it again this year.
Today’s story, for day eleven – Safari, by Jennifer Egan
Read it online here:
I wasn’t very far into reading today’s story when I realized I had read it before. The story Safari is one section of Jennifer Egan’s novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. I read the book about three years ago and wrote a blog entry about it.
A Visit From the Goon Squad is as much a collection of linked short stories as it is a singular novel. I wanted to read the story in isolation – to see if it would work. The collection is very good but it is so complicated that it helps to have a timeline and a 3D interactive character map to get through it. Safari is pretty much one arm of that 3D map – the one gathered around Lou.
I have always enjoyed linked short stories and think it is a crackerjack way to structure a novel or longer work. The best of both worlds – so to speak.
And Safari works very well on its own. Even in this piece of the whole – Jennifer Egan throws a surprisingly complex and extensive batch of characters against the page. Most of them stick. The setting is unique, a kaleidoscope of Hollywood weirdos is transported to the African Wilderness, where their weaknesses are allowed to fester.
The Samburu warriors have arrived—four of them, two holding drums, and a child in the shadows minding a yellow long-horned cow. They came yesterday, too, after the morning game run, when Lou and Mindy were “napping.” That was when Charlie exchanged shy glances with the most beautiful warrior, who has scar-tissue designs coiled like railroad tracks over the rigorous architecture of his chest and shoulders and back.
Most short stories are told from a single point of view. In Safari the author jumps around and plays fast and loose – everything is told from almost everyone’s perspective. That adds a richness to the proceedings and reveals truths that would otherwise go hidden. The only characters that don’t take a turn are the two bird watching ladies. It’s interesting how that their motivations are never revealed, yet the ending… the last sentence… revolves around what their true motivations are.
And they might not even be aware of it.