Friday, June 24, 2011

Shame Sliding

     There is a school of thought claiming that Gordon Lish ruined Raymond Carver by making him an unwitting minimalist. There is another school that says Gordon Lish made Raymond Carver. George Saunders is what Raymond Carver lovers who like the unedited versions of his work unconsciously crave, though Carver unedited never soars to the glory that is Saunders. The best line in “Home,” the Saunders story in the summer fiction issue of The New Yorker is “I was on a like shame slide.” But there are all kinds of wonderful locutions in this narrative about a returning Iraq vet that are reminiscent of the violence that hangs over early Pinter plays like The Caretaker and The Homecoming. This interchange between the vet Mikey’s mother and her lover Harris takes place early in the story:
     “I love him like my own son,” Harris said.
     “What a ridiculous statement,” Ma said. “You hate your son.”
     “I hate both my sons,” Harris said.

     Renee is Mike’s sister, and she is married to Ryan. Ryan’s parents, who are visiting their grandchild, share their opinions about the well-to-do Flemings, who have flown in planeloads of harelipped Russian babies. “Those kids went from being disabled in a collapsing nation to being set for life in the greatest country in the world,” says Ryan’s father. As the dialogue continues to its morbidly hysterical climax, the father adds, “A truly visionary pair of folks.” Saunders then provides his own Pinteresque caesura.

     There was a long admiring pause.
     “Although you’d never know it by how harshly he speaks to her,” she said.
     “Well, she can be awfully harsh with him as well,” he said.
     “Sometimes it’s just him being harsh with her and her being harsh right back,” she said.“It’s like the chicken or the egg,” he said.
     “Only with harshness,” she said.
     Mikey’s wife has walked out on him, and when he comes to see his kids, her new husband, Evan, won’t let him in. The two men try to take an attitude of equanimity. Saunders’s characters live in a state of physical and emotional dispossession, but they are acutely aware of their own language. “One way we were playing it reasonable was to say everything like a question,” says Mikey.
     Mikey utters the story’s best line as he pulls up to the house of the family he is no longer a part of. He imagines his wife Joy explaining it all to his kids thusly: “Although Evan is not your real daddy, me and Daddy Evan feel you don’t need to be around Daddy Mike all that much, because what me and Daddy Evan really care about is you two growing up strong and healthy and sometimes mommies and daddies need to make a special atmosphere in which that can happen.” On the way to his former wife’s house Mikey also has a memory of being hired by “this guy” to “clean some gunk out of his pond.” He ends up killing tadpoles with his rake, and when he tries to save them it only makes matters worse. So he keeps on “rake hurling,” which in turn reminds him of his behavior at Al-Raz, where he was stationed. “It wasn’t so rotten, really, just normal, and the way to confirm that it was normal was to keep doing it over and over.”
     I was on a like shame slide. Saunders is what people have in mind when they criticize Gordon Lish for taking the guts out of Carver, but no one, not even Lish, would have gotten rid of Saunders’s guts—a self-reflexive cartoon that is pure genius.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.