THE BANALITY OF POSTMODERN EVIL: GEORGE SAUNDERS’S “SEMPLICA GIRL DIARIES”

For this week’s “Deal Me In” short story challenge, I picked the 2 of Diamonds, which is George Saunders’ story “The Semplica Girl Diaries.”  This story is part of Saunders’ collection Tenth of December. For more information about the “Deal Me In” challenge, click here.  For my full list of “Deal Me In” stories, click here.

 tenth-of-december

My first reaction to reading “The Semplica Girl Diaries” was “wow!”  My second reaction was “wow!”

I had never read Saunders up until now, but I’d been hearing more and more about him.  Now I understand why he is getting so much attention.  I don’t recall reading anybody quite like him before.   The best comparison I can think of is Franz Kafka meets Raymond Carver; he combines the true horror of postmodernity with its utter banality.  Was it Hannah Arendt who wrote about the banality of evil?  George Saunders illustrates it in his stories.

The “Semplica Girl Diaries” is written as a diary of a man who wishes to record for posterity “how life really was/is now.”  Much of what he writes about concerns the ordinary trials and tribulations of middle-class families who wish they had more money.

It is only in passing, as an aside, that he first mention the SG girls.  He and his family are visiting a wealthy family’s home, and he sees “on sweeping lawn, largest SG arrangement ever seen, all in white, white smocks blowing in breeze” (114).  At this point, the narrator does not explain what the SGs are, and I thought maybe they were some kind of flower arrangement (?).

As the story unfolds, we gradually start to understand what SG girls are. They are girls/young women from poor countries who are displayed in yards of Americans for their decorative effect.  They are connected together by a microline through their brains. Then the microline is hoisted up three feet off the ground so that the girls are all hanging in the air, rather like laundry from a clothes line.

Here’s a description from the narrator who is proud of buying some SGs to show the neighbors how affluent he is:

We step out.  SGs up now, approx. three feet off ground, smiling, swaying in slight breeze.  Order, left to right: Tami (Laos), Gwen (Moldova), Lisa (Somalia), Betty (Phillippines).  Effect amazing.  Having so often seen similar configuration in yards of others more affluent, makes own yard seem suddenly affluent, you feel different about self, as if at last you are in step with peers and time in which living.

Pond great.  Roses great.  Path, hot tub great.  (133)

As if hanging up girls on a microline for aesthetic effect isn’t brutal enough, the real horror of this story derives from the utterly casual way affluent Americans regard the SG girls.  These girls are just yard ornaments, barely worthy of notice, much less concern.

I find this story a powerful illustration of the way in which the wealthy classes of the world can exploit poorer people cruelly, without even blinking an eye.  Obviously, this story is fiction and a bit outlandish.  Only a bit, though.

If you don’t think humans are capable of this sort of cruelty to young women, then you should read Half the Sky, which I discussed here.

George Saunders

George Saunders

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9 thoughts on “THE BANALITY OF POSTMODERN EVIL: GEORGE SAUNDERS’S “SEMPLICA GIRL DIARIES”

  1. Sounds great (I.e. terrible). Wonderfully casual language for something so wrong but not dissimilar from admiring some fois grais or some clothing from the sweat shops of Bangladesh. Will have to investigate this writer.

  2. Pingback: Deal Me In 2015 – Week 8 Wrap Up | Bibliophilopolis

  3. Had to read your post just to discern if _wow_ = “amazing” or the regional cultural “that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard/read”. I’m pretty sure it’s the former, but due to my regional cultural experience, I’m still not fully certain.

  4. Thanks for sharing this. It is very difficult for people of privilege to walk in the shoes of those in need. It is a “let them eat cake” metaphor. An example I have seen more than once by editorial writers, is the seemingly sincere observation that the solution to poverty is more two parent families. My answer is no shit Sherlock, but how are you going to get there and what happens if the husband beats his wife or is more of a problem than a help?

    We have to expose teens to birth control along with lessons of esteem and how to say no and what no means. Some girls give in as this is they have been led to believe this is how to be important. This will give the girls a better chance to marry without the challenge of kids before marriage. We have to provide education and employment opportunities for teens and young adults in depressed areas. We have to restore these areas to places people want to live and lessen crime to boot. Then, we can promote two parent families. But, to blindly say that the solution is two parent families is akin to sayingt “let them eat cake.”

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