George Saunders, “Home”

Tenth-of-DecemberA soldier returns from the war to find that things are pretty screwed up at home, too.

(from Tenth of December)

Like in the old days, I came out of the dry creek behind the house and did my little tap on the kitchen window.

“Get in here, you,” Ma said.

Inside were piles of newspapers on the stove and piles of magazines on the stairs and a big wad of hangers sticking out of the broken oven. All of that was as usual. New was: a water stain the shape of a cat head on the wall above the fridge and the old orange rug rolled up halfway.

“Still ain’t no beeping cleaning lady,” Ma said.

How shall I praise George Saunders today? How about this: Stories like “Home” make the contagiousness of their cynicism optional. If you want to, you can read this story from a safe distance, and never let the horribleness of its heightened reality poison your mind. That’s pretty much how it is for the characters, so beaten down are they by the grim violence and carelessness of their existence. It’s funny-sad or just funny, depending on how much you believe these are real people in a real world.

And now a thought exercise: Imagine the novelization of Idiocracy, as written by George Saunders.

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