Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Saunders Part Three

You guys are killing me. This is going so much better than I could have even hoped for!
So, relevant to my freaky smart cousin Matt's comment yesterday here is my question for the day:
What do you think is at the core of what Saunders is trying to say in these stories?
Personally I think Dean and Matt are both right, but I'm just going to repost a few of Matt's comments here because there's no way I could say it better:

"...imagine a world where presumed societal controls go off the tracks somewhat to the point where they are not recognized as societal controls and where understanding of them becomes lost even to the folks that either forged them or fought against them. Imagine if the individual’s sense of history or perspective was dictated entirely by the control structure without any hope of intellectual freedom. Is “abnormal” behavior actually “abnormal” when you can’t possibly know any better and the hope for perspective zero?" Dang, cuzzzin, m'i acshully related to ewe?

But I will also reiterate that as strange as it may seem I find these stories incredibly hopeful. I don't suppose many of these folks will get any sort of perspective - but I do see them having variations of faith that no matter how irrational, or perhaps, unlikely, in any given case, seems critical to dealing with the world as it is.

10 comments:

Dean said...

I think Saunders is saying a bunch of things. I think that most of these stories have multiple layers. Some are metaphor within metaphor. Some, like Christmas, are straightforward. Others, like In Persuasion Nation or Brad Carrigan - American, are complex.

I don't think Saunders is saying any one thing. I think he's commenting on a wide variety of things, in particular in the stories that seem to have gathered most of our attention so far, the involved satirical ones.

I guess I would say (and I'm thinking out loud here, a habit which often confuses those around me) that in broad terms these stories are about the individual's relationship to society, in all its glory and pathology. And yes, there is hope there, but there is also darkness. I read Adams, for example, in a completely different way than you did. I won't go into it here, because it doesn't really fit today's topic, but my reading of Adams was much darker than yours.

Betsy said...

Yes, I totally agree that one overarching theme is the individual's relationship to society. And I also agree that Adams was dark, without a doubt. I just really responded to the truth of Roger's duality, if you will.

carolyn said...

did you see that bookslut has an interview with saunders in their new issue that went up yesterday or the day before? OK heading back to day one to start...

Matt said...

For clarity’s sake, I don’t want to give the misimpression that I disagree with what Dean has been saying about the complexity of Saunders’ message. Reading the stories is like skinning an onion; you peel down a few layers and more appear with a slightly different texture than before. However, when the day is done, each layer is still fundamentally in composition an onion. Yes, the individual’s relationship to society is a (the?) major theme throughout, but what society and, frankly, what shift in relationship can be gleaned from the reading?

Also, hope is as important a component as any of the darker implications presented. While I get the impression that Saunders wants the individual to draw their own conclusions based on what they bring to the reading, I like to think that he tips his hand a bit by presenting such vivid characters. To me, effective characterization requires a great deal of understanding and awareness of the individuals presented, lest it falls flat and rings hollow. While not excusing, accepting, or damning his characters behavior and surroundings, I do sense an empathy from Saunders towards his characters as individuals. That is, he doesn’t gyp his characters for the sake of making his larger points. I think the hope comes from a desire that his characters not find themselves in the world that they have been placed as much as the hope that they find a strength to triumph in the surroundings they do face.

/almost pulled a Jerzy Kozinsky/Chauncey Gardiner card with my onion analogy there….

Betsy said...

Matt, I don't know who you are anymore. Do you have a secret literary life I don't know about? Besides just reading? Can you come be a guest speaker in my next writing workshop? Your observations and understanding of the complexities of what's going on here is blowing my mind.
/always enjoy Chauncey Gardiner references

carolyn said...

i do think there is hope in most of the stories, but in some i don't see it. the monkey story 93990 for example. i thought it was really powerful but that story left me in despair. but maybe that's why it comes about midway through the collection. i imagine saunders saying "OK I've given you some hope, and I will again, but wait a minute, stop, and let's take it to the bleakest place it can go. Let's forget about hope for a second..."

whereas the stories where a human is getting mistreated seem to have more hopeful endings...(in general anyway, i know this is not an absolute)

and sometimes the hope in the story is an illusion, it's there on the surface but underneath it's...twisted into something else. think about the ending of 'adams'. sure he is getting away and back to his kids and all full of hope...but he's just (presumably) burned alive his neighbor, neighbor's wife and their kids. so there's not much hope for those people now is there...

carolyn said...

oh - but - looking at them as a whole - i would call this "Societal Critism". that is the main thing that comes across to me, reading the book in one shebang. deeply sarcastic, black humor underrunning, societal criticism. as i originally said and everyone thinks i'm crazy for this phrasing: wicked-funny vs. wickedly funny.

if they weren't funny as well, they would ALL be too hard to read, not just the monkeys. it's the humor relief they throw into violent movies like pulp fiction - you can't get through the black w/o something to help you out. however, the black may really be the message.

and jumping back to the topic of 'hope'...

'my amendment'. not very unrealistic to my mind. first they'll ban 'gay' marriage (hello real life). then pseudo gay marriage (the story). and what comes after that? i don't leave that story thinking "oh there's hope!" i leave that story thinking "america is going down the fucking toilet and this story is soooo going to happen..."

carolyn said...

and that's "Societal Criticism" not "Critism". doh. fast fingers = typos!!

Betsy said...

Carolyn, I can get down with wicked funny vs. wickedly funny. Back to the hope thing - I think the hope that I see is for the inner life of the individual within all the turmoil, some sort of acceptance or faith or whatever it is for any individual, not so much that the world maybe isn't going to hell in a handbasket, which it may very well be in these ways. I'm scared, almost, to see An Inconvenient Truth.

carolyn said...

oh i'm definitely scared to see that movie!