Wednesday, October 22, 2014
George Saunders and the Absurdly Human
If I were to describe the plot of one of George Saunders’ stories to someone who’d never heard of him before, such as: When a family purchases a quartet of Semplica Girls (four young women from disadvantaged situations attached by wire through the brain as a lawn display) to please their eldest daughter for her birthday, things go wrong when one morning the family awakes to find the SGs stolen, and their financial situation in dire straits—I would get very strange looks. How can such an absurd story be meaningful? In an interview with Heather Sappenfield, Saunders said “The idea that absurdism and humanity might not, or should not, exist in the same story—I don’t feel that way. They’re not different. When Hamlet’s father comes back as a ghost, it’s totally perfect and necessary—the best possible way of objectifying the actual psychological reality of the moment. Plus it kicks ass.” Saunders claims that absurdism in a story not only doesn’t diminish its attempt at meaning, but enhances it. Do you agree with Saunders on this? Is there a place for absurdism in a story trying to grasp at humanity? Do you find that his stories, as bizarre as the situations are, touch at something innately human that we can all relate to?
Aimee Bender in her introduction to Saunders in 3x33 says, “…he does not spare his characters, and his dialogue is heart-sinking and embarrassingly familiar. I talk like that. I know a million people who talk like that. I watch those shows. We are these people. And in the reflection, ugly as it may be, inside the wince, is a clarity. How does he do it?” Saunders somehow manages to make us relate to the weird worlds he creates, despite the fact that the places and the situations seem so entirely fictional. Do you find Saunders’ stories believable? And if so, how is he able to make them so believable in the midst of such strangeness?
Saunders goes on to say “I put a so called ‘absurd element’ in because I think it is the best way of describing the way life really is, and really feels, when we can momentarily shuck off our habituation. Or to be more honest, I put it in there because it seems enlivening at the moment. I am trying to kick ass. It shakes things up, or raises the stakes.” Could you see yourself using ‘absurd elements’ as Saunders does to raise the stakes and ‘kick ass’ in your own stories?