Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Saunders Week: Day Two

You guys are rocking it with your comments and I am so psyched! So what I would like to do is ask that you continue to comment on whichever questions you feel like, the new ones or ones from the previous days. And my question for today is: Does any of this over-the-top stuff bear any resemblance to your own lives? If so, how? Because although I haven’t been part of a conventional workplace for a very long time, from what I remember, the way he portrays the workplace is not all that far off. Power struggles, people just trying to get by, stupid office-speak, etc. And for me, even when he veers off into the completely unreal, there are instances where I feel alarmingly close in spirit to these people. Both in In Persuasion Nation and CommComm, over the top as they are, I feel like, yep, I’ve thought like that before. Which maybe, yes, explains years of therapy and what have you on my part, but nevertheless there it is.


Dean said...

Does any of this over-the-top stuff bear any resemblance to your own lives?

Yes. That's why it works so well as satire. If it didn't have sharp references back to the lives we live, it wouldn't work. If we didn't recognize ourselves in it, it wouldn't have relevance.

In Brad Carrigan - American, for example, they cast Brad out when he refuses to go along with duct-taping Doug, the African AIDS baby, onto the roof. It's absurd when you look at it, when you realize what it is that is actually happening in the story, but at the time, it makes hallucinatory sense. We've all flipped past the images of African AIDS babies, of starvation. We've felt guilty doing it, but almost none of us have ever done anything about it. That's why the over-the-top satire works.

Saunders has such a finely tuned antenna that it amazes me. I killed myself laughing over the name of the Slap-a-Wak bar in In Persuasion Nation. It's such an absurd name, but it fits. You could -almost- see someone marketing such a thing.

Betsy said...

Dean, yes, right on. This in particular: "We've all flipped past the images of African AIDS babies, of starvation. We've felt guilty doing it, but almost none of us have ever done anything about it" was something I thought about while reading it.
And I agree, his antenna is getting a clear signal alright. Slap-a-Wak killed me too, and I don't think it's very far off at all.
PS To all: just because I'm gushing all over the place doesn't mean you have to.

B. E. Pinkham said...

One of many reasons for reading fiction is to get the writer's insight into the interpersonal conflicts that are (in my highly charmed life) rarely acted out. So yeah, I would definitely say that Saunder's workplace tensions ring true. People feel and repress those passions, that fear and that hate for each other all the time. I've recently read two A.M.Homes novels and her characters are extremely impulsive, probably unrealistically impulsive, but the stories work. I have a friend who likes to quote her dear auntie whenever domestic tensions rise: "Sometimes my husband makes me want to stick a knife in him and take a walk around." So far as I know there's been only one suspected actual spouse-icide in her family
Also, Saunder's ability to humanize his vigilanties and fear-crazed murderers may seem extreme only because, in our culture we don't get to look inside their hearts. We only get the usual journalistic, legalistic or psychiatric narrative.
I'm trying to work up to talking about Saunder's exquisite hilarity regarding advertsing/consumerism, but I'm not going to get there today. Tomorrow, I hope.

Betsy said...

Ellen, one of my old neighbors felt the same way about stabbing her husband, and she actually acted on it. What interests me about what Saunders does is that he recognizes these people as being more than just stabbing people.

Matt said...

Funny, but I get an entirely different read from Saunders’ characterizations than over-the-top stylized representations of the quirky amongst us in “real” life. While Lord knows that we can all come up with example after example of folk who could or do resemble many of those who populate his short stories, in doing so, are we missing Saunders larger point? A case could be made that the general theme running throughout all the stories (a dangerous assumption, I know) is that Saunders is writing about “normal” folk in an abnormal world not too far off from where we are as society today. That is to say, 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? Are characters such as “jon” “brad carringan” etc, really that strange or do circumstances make their reactions normal considering?

The scary thing and what makes Saunders’ world so thought provoking is that he does nail the voice and the atmosphere to the point where we can recognize it today. Is this entirely an exaggerated critique of today’s world or possibly a view of where we might be heading a few generations down the line?

Dean said...

Are characters such as “jon” “brad carringan” etc, really that strange or do circumstances make their reactions normal considering?

You're right, of course. But I think that's what makes the over-the-top satire of stories like Brad Carrigan - American work. Brad lives in a surreal landscape. In the course of the story, he deals with some awful things: talking corpses in his yard, a puppet who emasculates himself and then commits suicide, catching his wife with Chief Wayne, an African baby with AIDS. Brad's reactions to these things are semi-normal under the circumstances in which he finds himself.

If we didn't have Brad, or didn't see some of ourselves in Brad - which we do implicitly when we 'get' the story - then the story wouldn't work. It would just be a bunch of macabre things happening. They wouldn't be connected. But because we have Brad, they are connected, and they do make a sort of delusional sense.

carolyn said...

the over the top stuff rings true...because it's what we're thinking on the inside, right? it's the irrational angers that we feel at work and can't say, but in our heads we're thinking "i could rip that guy's fucking head off..."

i agree with matt - i think to a large degree saunders' point is "you read this and you go 'Woah! that's funny but so crazy!' but think about it: is it really that far off?"

while some of the stories cover advertising/commercialism and some cover more 'personal life' themes, there is a strong undercurrent of societal criticism in all of them -- not just that we're living the overtly social/job areas of our lives on a twisted path (that could lead to where these stories go), but that we might not be making the right choices in other areas as well.

and presumably (hopefully?) the over the top actions of some characters might make someone realize how, say, a certain politician's actions, while "acceptable" in our world today might really be equally as over the top if you think about them honestly, morally, whathaveyou.

carolyn said...

p.s. i think we can see some aspect of brad in ourselves, but we can also see that it took brad a long ass time to WAKE UP and see what was happening... that brad was a willing participant for a lot of things that weren't right as well and it shouldn't have had to get as over the top as it did for him to finally take action...

Betsy said...

He just seems to have an amazing knack for pointed social commentary/criticism while also allowing us to see enough of ourselves in it, how we're complicit in it, but somehow without making us feel completely to blame either. He recognizes that a lot of forces are at work, and points them out in this singularly painful and amusing way.