Happy Sunday to you, and thanks for spending a few minutes checking out my latest musings on cultural rebels, then and now. George Saunders, author of a host of brilliant short story collections, including the frightfully dark CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, the tempered, but still delightfully acidic Pastoralia, and the must-have kids book The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (among others), has recently released Tenth of December: Stories, which once again has left me gobsmacked. Saunders knows capitalism, its effect on the psyche, and reprises a host of questions, one of which is fairly sympatico with The Clash ethos: when you don’t know how you’re going to make the next set of payments on the sofa (or a girl), what can you do to maintain a semblance of honor or dignity in a world gone absurd? In this latest collection, he ups the ante from previous chronicles of dead-end jobs in dystopic theme parks by extending the logic of better-living-through-chemistry to include drugs of reverential eloquence.
Likewise, upon reading a handful of the new stories, I thought of Mark Perry, of Sniffin’ Glue fanzine notoriety (see here), and his iconic review of The Clash’s debut LP back in 1977.
I especially like the parallels between The Clash and Saunders, since Perry’s initial sortie against The Clash decried their decision to sign with a major label: “Punk died the day The Clash signed with CBS.” Likewise, I figure some people might have already abandoned Saunders since he’s been conferred with comparable establishment credentials (he’s a recent recipient of the MacArthur genius grant). But don’t be fooled: like The Clash in ’77, there’s still plenty of punk left in Saunders.
In turn, here’s my Perry-esque review of Tenth of December.
The Truth –> George Saunders
Tenth of December (Random House short story collection).
Victory Lap/Sticks/Puppy/Escape from Spiderhead/Exhortation/Al Roosten/The Semplica Girl Diaries/Home/My Chivalric Fiasco/Tenth of December.
In “Chivalric Fiasco,” Ted works in a dystopic theme park, and his dependents include his mother, father, and Beth, his wife. Mom needs a tilting bed. Dad needs a back brace and meds for pain. Beth needs meds for shyness. His job, for six years, is in janitorial, until he catches Don Murray, his boss, with Martha, a co-worker, in coitus interruptus.
“So Ted, Don Murray said. Last night you witnessed something that, if not viewed in the right light, might seem wrongish. Martha and I find that funny. Don’t we Mar? I just now gave Martha a thousand dollars. In case there was some kind of misunderstanding. Martha now feels we had a fling. Which, both being married, we so much regret. What with the drinking, plus the romance of TorchLightNight, what happened Martha?
“Martha: We got carried away. Had a fling.
“Don: Voluntary fling … Ted, you’re also moving up. Out of Janitorial. To Pacing Guard …
“Which was amazing … Hooray, I thought, finally, a Medicated Role.” (My Chivalric Fiasco, pp. 204 – 208)
TENTH OF DECEMBER IS LIKE A MIRROR. IT REFLECTS OUR SHIT, OUR WEAKNESS, OUR COMPASSION. IT SHOWS US THE TRUTH. IT’S AS IF I’M LOOKING AT MY LIFE IN A YOUTUBE VIDEO. A STORY OF LIFE IN ELYRIA OHIO, BUFFALO NEW YORK, OR OKLAHOMA CITY. A JOB THAT REDUCED ME TO A CHARACTER WITH NO DIGNITY, FOR THE AMUSEMENT OF OTHER CHARACTERS, EYES FOREVER CAUGHT IN THE GLARE OF THEIR MOBILE DEVICES. THE TOXICITY OF THAT BARGAIN IS NO LONGER IN THE DARK.
GEORGE SAUNDERS TELLS THE TRUTH!
I hope you’re having a fine weekend, and that you’ll check back on Wednesday for another installment of post-punk gems. Cheers!