George Saunders, “The Falls”

When he got home, he would sit on the steps and enjoy a few minutes of centered breathing while reciting his mantra, which was “calm down calm down,” before the kids came running out and grabbed his legs and sometimes even bit him quite hard in their excitement and Ruth came out to remind him in an angry tone that he wasn’t the only one who’d worked all day, and as he walked he gazed out at the beautiful Taganac in an effort to absorb something of her serenity but instead found himself obsessing about the faulty hatch on the gate, which theoretically could allow Annie to toddle out of the yard and into the river, and he pictured himself weeping on the shore, and to eradicate this thought started manically whistling “The Stars and Stripes Forever,” while slapping his hands against his sides.

In honor of his new story collection Tenth of December, which is getting raves all over the place and which I desperately want to procure and take home to read cover to cover while ignoring all of my duties, here’s a classic George Saunders sentence. Taken from a headlong short story from the collection Pastoralia, this sentence makes me laugh out loud and drops us right into the middle of a consciousness of Morse. Morse’s mind is a manic, neurotic minefield–in other words, he’s like any of us, at least on certain days. Here and throughout the story, he plays out endless possibilities, some horrifying, some hopeful, and is only loosely in control of his own mind, or his life for that matter. I feel for him; I root for him in all his disfunction and mania.

And that’s what I love most about Saunders: no matter how strange or dystopian the situation–and he is a master of the strange and the dystopian–his characters are real people with beating hearts, people I can imagine myself being, similarly conflicted, corrupted, doomed, and searching for redemption at great cost. 

Leave a Reply