George Saunders: “The Semplica-Girls Diary” from The New Yorker, 10/15/12

New Yorker art by Martin Ansin

New Yorker art by Martin Ansin

Having just turned forty, have resolved to embark on grand project of writing every day in this new black book just got at OfficeMax. Exciting to think how in one year, at rate of one page/day, will have written three hundred and sixty-five pages, and what a picture of life and times then available for kids & grandkids, even greatgrandkids, whoever, all are welcome (!) to see how life really was/is now. Because what do we know of other times really?

Most of the time, when a story is impossible to discuss without spoiling, I give the warning, then continue. Not this time. It’s available online. Read it.

Well, maybe I’ll continue a little. 😉

It’s slightly longer than most TNY stories (10 online pages) but that’s because of the short sentences and frequent single-line paragraphs. It’s in diary form, which rarely works for me, though in this case I was more annoyed by the abbreviated language – like slang, only worse. But I understand, even if I don’t particularly like, the style.

I trust Saunders. And he delivered. In fact, he delivered past the point where I thought he delivered. So in addition to really, really liking the story, I learned something about what makes a story. A gradually-dawning surprise, a horrifyingly ironic icon, isn’t enough.

There’s a reference you probably won’t get at first. Don’t worry about it, even if you’re an old fart like me and worry that you aren’t up on your twitter-ese (though it turns out it doesn’t matter), and especially if you’re internet’s out like mine was as I read this, because you won’t be able to google to find out what it refers to (or doesn’t – and again, it doesn’t matter). And that’ll turn out to be a good thing, because if you trust Saunders, he won’t leave you, um, hanging.

It’s vintage Saunders, with all his favorite themes, starting and ending with consumerism but delving into class warfare, keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, those jobs Americans don’t want and the stories we tell ourselves about who wants them and why. And it’s a funny story – maybe predictably in places, as when our narrator breaks his vow to write daily in his diary by the second day.

It stays funny even as it turns macabre.

The familiar situations – dueling birthday parties – with unfamiliar details (go ahead, read it) let us laugh at him without squirming about our own behavior (she writes on her computer made who-knows-where-by-who-knows-who while a chicken plucked and gutted by please-don’t-tell-me roasts on carrots picked by I-don’t-want-to-think-about-it, none of which has anything to do with the crazy stuff in the story, of course). And when the narrator finds himself understanding a little bit more than he bargained for about parents and children sacrificing for each other, courtesy of his six-year-old, maybe we will, too.

In his Page-Turner interview with Deborah Treisman, Saunders says one scene from the story, including all the, um, unfamiliar details, came to him in a dream, and he had to write a story “to get the guy to that window, in his underwear, having that same feeling.” I love where he went with that.

Like I said: read it.

[addendum: I am thoroughly delighted to see this story in Best American Short Stories 2013]

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3 responses to “George Saunders: “The Semplica-Girls Diary” from The New Yorker, 10/15/12

  1. Pingback: George Saunders–”The Semplica-Girl Diaries” (New Yorker, October 15, 2012) « I Just Read About That…

  2. Pingback: Reading Matters: Public #Respect for Writers | A Just Recompense

  3. Pingback: BASS 2013: Closing the Cover | A Just Recompense

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