Deal Me In! Amy Silverberg, Suburbia!

I signed up for Jay at bibliophilica’s #DealMeIn2019 challenge.  The goal is to read 52 short stories this year.  The stories are chosen by drawing a random playing card.

This week, I chose the 4 of Diamonds.

The story is “Suburbia!” by Amy Silverberg, found in Best American Short stories 2018, edited by Roxane Gay.

“Suburbia!” is (for lack of a better word) an odd story.  It begins when the narrator is fifteen, and her father says “I bet you’ll leave here at eighteen and you’ll never come back. . . not once” (251).  The narrator agrees to the bet.  A week after her 18th birthday, her father takes the daughter to the train station and says goodbye to her forever.  (It did not seem that the daughter had been consulted about this trip.) The daughter does OK.  She gets a job as a waitress, makes some friends, and takes a few classes.  But eventually, she misses her family and wants to see them again, so she goes home unannounced.

She is surprised to find that the house she grew up in is tiny–smaller than a toaster.  She crouches down on her knees in order to talk to her parents.  They are embarrassed that she is seeing them like this, but otherwise they are doing fine.

The last line of the story is this:  “I thought this was a funny thing, the way the past and the future could both shrink down to a manageable size, like a pill to be swallowed, or the head of a match” (261).

I believe Silverberg is using the miniature house as a symbol.  When we are children, our families and our homes seem huge, all-encompassing.  After we grow up and look back on our homes, our families may seem in some way diminished.  One can understand why the narrator’s father would not want her to see them through the lens of her adult eyes.

I’m not sure what I think of this story.  I haven’t yet fully “digested” it.  In the back of the anthology, Silverberg included some notes on why she wrote the story.  I will quote part of what she wrote:

  “I’d just read the short story ‘The Paperhanger’ by William Gay and admire the mystery of it, how it seemed to go confidently into an unknown world, a world that felt a little surreal and a little absurd. . . .I was also in a workshop taught by Aimee Bender, and while I hadn’t set out to write anything with a magical realism element, I’m sure her stories. . . rubbed off on me–or if not the stories, then at least the courage or freedom to go confidently into that so called unknown world.”

I do like that idea of writers having the freedom to go confidently wherever they want to go.

*****
Have you read this story or anything else by Amy Silverberg?  Let me know what you think!

 

Gullfoss Falls

gulfoss

Google Streetview of Gullfoss Falls.

“Wow, look at that view!”  Katrina said to her sister, Meg.  They were standing on the observation deck overlooking the Hvita River cascading down the two tiers of Gulfoss Falls.

“Beautiful!” Meg agreed.  After a pause, she added, “I am surprised, though, that so many people are walking down that path, so close to the edge of the cliff.”

Katrina sighed but did not say anything.   She was used to her sister’s fear of heights, of water, of nature.  She peered through her binoculars to get a closer look.   Dozens of people strolled along the path, entranced by the view.  Some of them were lovers, holding hands.

Then, Katrina noticed something and gasped.

“”What is it?” Meg asked.

“Oh, nothing,” Katrina replied, putting away her binoculars. “I’m just ready to get going.”

Katrina had spotted Meg’s husband, Brian, walking along the path, holding hands with Meg’s best friend Colleen.


149 words

This has been an edition of What Pegman Saw, a Google Maps inspired flash fiction prompt.

Give it a try yourself!

 

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

Deal Me In Short Story Challenge 2015

Deal Me In!
Deal Me In!

I just discovered Bibliophilopolis wonderful “Deal Me In: Short Story Challenge.”  (Click here for the details.)  Participants choose 52 stories to read and assign each of them a card (such as the 4 of Hearts).  Then, each week, participants randomly select a card and read the story assigned to that card.  (We don’t have to blog every week or about every story, just as much as we want to do.)

Here is my list.  I am getting a somewhat late start, so I’ll have to read more than one a week for a couple of weeks.  I’m looking forward to the challenge. Thanks, Bibliophilopolis!

HEARTS

(The following stories are all from Lorrie Moore’s collection, Bark)

A         “Debarking”

2          “The Juniper Tree”

3          “Paper Losses”

4          “Foes”

5          “Wings”

6          “Referential”

7          “Subject to Search”

8          “Thank You for Having Me”

 

(The following stories are all from George Saunders’s collection, Tenth of December)

9          “Victory Lap” (The New Yorker, 2009)

10        “Sticks” (Harper’s, 1995)

J           “Puppy” (The New Yorker, 2007)

Q         “Escape from Spiderhead” (The New Yorker, 2010)[8]

K         “Exhortation” (part of “Four Institutional Monologues” from McSweeney’s #4, )

DIAMONDS

A         “Al Roosten” (The New Yorker, 2009)

2          “The Semplica Girl Diaries” (The New Yorker, 2012)

3          “Home” (The New Yorker, 2011)

4          “My Chivalric Fiasco” (Harper’s, 2011)

5          “Tenth of December” (The New Yorker, 2011)

 

 

(The following stories are all from Alice Munro’s collection Dear Life)

6         “To Reach Japan”

7          “Amundsen”

8          “Leaving Maverly”

9          “Gravel”

10        “Haven”

J           “Pride”

Q         “Corrie”

K         “Train”

 

SPADES

 

A         “In Sight of the Lake”

2          “Dolly”

3          “The Eye”

4          “Night”

5          “Voices”

6          “Dear Life”

 

Recent New Yorker Stories

 

7          Brad Watson  “Eykelboom”  (November 24, 2014)

8          Nuruddin Farah,  “The Start of the Affair” (December 22 and 29, 2014)

9          Elizabeth McKenzie “Savage Breast” (December 15, 2014)

10        Jess Row, “The Empties” (November 3, 2014)

J           Tim Parks, “Reverend”

Q         Kevin Canty, “Story, with Bird”

K          Victor Lodato, “Jack, July” (September 22, 2014)

 

CLUBS

A         Tessa Hadley, “One Saturday Morning”

2          Haruki Murakami, “Scheherazade”

3          Etgar Keret, “One Gram Short”

 

(The following stories are from Best American Short Stories 2014)

4          CHARLES BAXTER. Charity

from McSweeney’s

 

5          ANN BEATTIE. The Indian Uprising

from Granta

 

6          T.C. BOYLE. The Night of the Satellite

from The New Yorker

 

7          PETER CAMERON. After the Flood

from Subtropics

 

8          NICOLE CULLEN. Long Tom Lookout

from Idaho Review

 

9          CRAIG DAVIDSON. Medium Tough

from Agni

 

10        JOSHUA FERRIS. The Breeze

from The New Yorker

 

J           NELL FREUDENBERGER. Hover

from The Paris Review

 

Q         DAVID GATES. A Hand Reached Down to Guide Me

from Granta

 

K         LAUREN GROFF. At the Round Earth’s Imagined Corners

from Five Points

 

And here are some more stories from the Best American Short Stories 2014.  Maybe I’ll get to them as well.

 

RUTH PRAWER JHABVALA. The Judge’s Will

from The New Yorker

O.A. LINDSEY. Evie M.

from Iowa Review

WILL MACKIN. Kattekoppen

from The New Yorker

BRENDAN MATHEWS. This Is Not a Love Song

from Virginia Quarterly Review

MOLLY MCNETT. La Pulchra Nota

from Image

BENJAMIN NUGENT. God

from The Paris Review

JOYCE CAROL OATES. Mastiff

from The New Yorker

STEPHEN O’CONNOR. Next to Nothing

from Conjunctions

KAREN RUSSELL. Madame Bovary’s Greyhound

from Zoetrope: All-Story

Laura Van Den Berg. Antarctica

from Glimmer Train