George Saunders, “Victory Lap”

41ugrGr1YpL._SS500_Kids in suburbia contemplate moral grey areas when a guy with a van and a knife shows up.

(from Tenth of December)

He took off his shoes and stood mentally rehearsing a little show he liked to call “WHAT IF . . . RIGHT NOW?”

WHAT IF they came home RIGHT NOW?

It’s a funny story, Dad! I came in thoughtlessly! Then realized what I’d done! I guess, when I think about it, what I’m happy about? Is how quickly I self-corrected! The reason I came in so thoughtlessly was, I wanted to get right to work, Dad, per your note!

He raced in his socks to the garage, threw his shoes into the garage, ran for the vacuum, vacuumed up the micro-clods, then realized, holy golly, he had thrown his shoes into the garage rather than placing them on the Shoe Sheet as required, toes facing away from the door for ease of donnage later.

I’ll always love the old George Saunders, the guy who could make miserable theme park out of anything (and I may encounter him as I get further into Tenth of December), but in recent years he’s wowed me with less confining, more spry storytelling. There’s still all the agony and inner dialogue, but there’s also a sense of possibility. “Victory Lap” hops from one p.o.v. to another as this attempted abduction unfolds, and if we don’t pick up on why French phrases drop in unannounced, or if a character is instructed to bury a geode (is this a thing? people bury geodes?), that’s fine. More importantly, the dread we feel as readers watching the Horrible Thing go down, is usurped by an unexpectedly Possibly Hopeful Act. Which is not to say things end well for anybody.

I’ve said too much. You should just read it. Some swashbuckling lit professor has made a .pdf of “Victory Lap” available here. But it wouldn’t kill you to just buy the book.

What better excuse for me to get back in the writing-about-short-stories game than a new George Saunders collection? Actually there were two excuses, the first being the divine intervention of Mary Miller — once the subject of many an I Read A Short Story Today post — who summoned this thing back from the abyss by becoming co-editor. Very cool.

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