BASS 2010 – “The Safari” Jennifer Egan
(I have skipped Charles Baxter’s “The Cousins” for now because I’m scared of Charles Baxter)
I’ve read that this story is an excerpt from a novel, apparently a related-short-stories-about-the-same-people novel. I have bookmarked “Found Objects” which I’ll get to soon.
I enjoyed a lot about this – the “structural” laws Mindy has, apparently believing that everyone’s behavior is driven by some higher law rather than their own individual flaws and perceptions. The POV is very omniscient and switches from character to character throughout, which is pretty cool. It’s interesting I read this shortly before reading the What If? chapter about how transportation is boring and should be avoided, since the most action-laden section of the story takes place on a Jeep in the African bush travelling around on, you guessed it, safari. In fact, everyone’s position in the Jeep is clearly laid out, and characters are described thusly. I was amused by Dean, who tends to state the obvious a lot: “It’s hot.”
I was intrigued by Rolph noticing Mindy was angry when Albert joins her to tuck him in at night in the hotel, and I feel very stupid for not being sure if she’s actually angry, or if the point is that she’s very aroused and Rolph isn’t old enough to interpret it correctly. I think that’s the case since later it’s mentioned she joins Albert in Room 3 later that night, so at that point I figured it wasn’t anger at all. And that’s interesting in and of itself, a boy can’t tell the difference between lust and anger because the symptoms are so similar and he doesn’t know what lust is yet (though by 11 one would think he would, but I don’t understand the time setting of this story – Lou says someone kept him out of Korea 20 years ago which would put it in the 70’s, though I suppose it wasn’t necessarily the Korean war he had to be referring to – there are soldiers still in Korea, after all. No one has any cell phones or computers so maybe it is set in the 70’s. Anyway, back to Rolph and anger, he can tell his dad is angry when he tells him about Mindy and Albert later, and that leads to his dad marrying Mindy to “win” which is pretty interesting. And Rolph feels anger at his father, leaving people aside, which might be the most important sentence of the story.
The flash forwards are handled strangely, not only are they super-quick but they’re interspersed with present-moment in a way that gets a little disorienting – is Charlie saying that now or then? Everyone’s fate is interesting, I wonder how it fits into this novel as a whole.
The central event of the lions is really interesting, with all that’s going on, there’s the flirtation with Mindy and Albert and one of the birdwatchers is in the jeep and they don’t even realize it, and then the lioness and the discussion about who will take care of the kids, it leads to a lot. This is what they’re talking about when they say an inevitable but surprising progression, I think.
The end was odd, the ladies aren’t bird watching at all, but I’m not sure what that has to do with the story as a whole since they don’t seem to have much to do with what happens to the family at the core of things. Maybe it’s just that grown-up thing, now that she’s grown up she realizes that things are not as they seem and people say one thing and do another.
From the afternotes I see she wrote this story years before the novel in which it appears, and retrofit it because she had a character who said he went to Africa years ago (it is set in an earlier time, maybe not the 70’s but not current). And it was the “structural” thing that she saw as the building block of the story. She knew the boy would die young and wanted to explore why. Hmmm. Yeah, that anger Rolph feels, depression is anger/suicide is rage turned inward.