George Saunders is everywhere these days. By all reports his new book of short stories, Tenth of December, is terrific, and as a result Saunders has been interviewed and profiled by just about everyone. An interview was published in the New Yorker (!) and he was profiled in a recent New York Times Magazine cover story (!!).
I must say, I was reading his work long before he reached this level of renown. He and I were both living in Rochester when his first book, Civilwarland in Bad Decline, was published. I picked it up in paperback at the local Wegman's store, where it was displayed with a hand-drawn sign declaring him a "local author." I loved it, and I've read everything he's written since then.
In fact, I wrote about Saunders in the very first week of Gurldoggie's existence, way back in October 2007, posting a short short story in its entirety. I'm reprising that story down below because it's worth it.
George Saunders is reading from his new book at Seattle Town Hall this Monday, February 4. Tickets are just $5 and available right here.
Sticks by George Saunders.
Every year on Thanksgiving night we flocked out behind Dad as he dragged the Santa suit to the road and draped it over a kind of crucifix he'd built out of metal pole in the yard. Super Bowl week the pole was dressed in a jersey and Rod's helmet and Rod had to clear it with Dad if he wanted to take the helmet off. On the Fourth of July the pole was Uncle Sam, on Veterans Day a soldier, on Halloween a ghost. The pole was Dad's only concession to glee. We were allowed a single Crayola from the box at a time. One Christmas Eve he shrieked at Kimmie for wasting an apple slice. He hovered over us as we poured ketchup saying: good enough good enough good enough. Birthday parties consisted of cupcakes, no ice cream. The first time I brought a date over she said: what's with your dad and that pole? and I sat there blinking.
We left home, married, had children of our own, found the seeds of meanness blooming also within us. Dad began dressing the pole with more complexity and less discernible logic. He draped some kind of fur over it on Groundhog Day and lugged out a floodlight to ensure a shadow. When an earthquake struck Chile he lay the pole on its side and spray painted a rift in the earth. Mom died and he dressed the pole as Death and hung from the crossbar photos of Mom as a baby. We'd stop by and find odd talismans from his youth arranged around the base: army medals, theater tickets, old sweatshirts, tubes of Mom's makeup. One autumn he painted the pole bright yellow. He covered it with cotton swabs that winter for warmth and provided offspring by hammering in six crossed sticks around the yard. He ran lengths of string between the pole and the sticks, and taped to the string letters of apology, admissions of error, pleas for understanding, all written in a frantic hand on index cards. He painted a sign saying LOVE and hung it from the pole and another that said FORGIVE? and then he died in the hall with the radio on and we sold the house to a young couple who yanked out the pole and the sticks and left them by the road on garbage day.