sinuosity
August 5, 2008 8:46 AM   Subscribe

Realist Fiction by George Saunders:
"Last night, in a biker bar, I overheard two men discussing what distinguished “realist” fiction from more “experimental” work. Although one shouldn’t generalize, I never expect bikers to be literary critics. Well, these were literary critics, and good ones—in fact, they’d bought their “hogs” with royalties from a book they’d co-written, Feminine Desire In Jane Austen."

Experimental Fiction by George Saunders:
"Experimental fiction is the art of telling a story in which certain aspects of reality have been exaggerated or distorted in such a way as to put the reader off the story and make him go watch a television show."
posted by plexi (37 comments total) 43 users marked this as a favorite

 
Saw this in Harper's recently. Funny stuff.
posted by tiger yang at 8:49 AM on August 5, 2008


God Bless You, Mr. Vonnegut and Manifesto: A Press Release From PRKA, two pieces by George Saunders.

Curse you, plexi, I'd been meaning to do a Saunders FPP! :D
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 8:52 AM on August 5, 2008 [2 favorites]


His Sea Oak is maybe my favorite short story ever.
posted by ORthey at 8:57 AM on August 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


Stephen Leacock, on the Realist Novel:
"For Frederica of the Factory I spent six months in a knitting mill. For Marguerite of the Mud Flats I made special studies for months and months."
"Of what sort?" we asked.
"In mud. Learning to model it. You see for a story of that sort the first thing needed is a thorough knowledge of mud--all kinds of it."
"And what are you doing next?" we inquired.
"My next book," said the Lady Novelist, "is to be a study--tea?--of the pickle industry--perfectly new ground."
"A fascinating field," we murmured.
"And quite new. Several of our writers have done the slaughter-house, and in England a good deal has been done in jam. But so far no one has done pickles. I should like, if I could," added Ethelinda Afterthought, with the graceful modesty that is characteristic of her, "to make it the first of a series of pickle novels, showing, don't you know, the whole pickle district, and perhaps following a family of pickle workers for four or five generations."
"Four or five!" we said enthusiastically. "Make it ten! And have you any plan for work beyond that?"
"Oh, yes indeed," laughed the Lady Novelist. "I am always planning ahead. What I want to do after that is a study of the inside of a penitentiary."
"Of the inside?" we said, with a shudder.
"Yes. To do it, of course, I shall go to jail for two or three years!"
"But how can you get in?" we asked, thrilled at the quiet determination of the frail woman before us.
"I shall demand it as a right," she answered quietly. "I shall go to the authorities, at the head of a band of enthusiastic women, and demand that I shall be sent to jail. Surely after the work I have done, that much is coming to me."
"It certainly is," we said warmly.
posted by nasreddin at 9:04 AM on August 5, 2008 [11 favorites]


I've been to several biker bars across the USA, and a joke that rings truer and truer each day goes along the lines of

"did you hear one town over a truck hit and killed 4 bikers?"
"no, how horrible"
"killed off their entire dentist population"

Rode with the Patriot Guard up in KY once and ran across a couple of Mensans I knew from TN.

What you ride and where you drink, really not too much of a reflection of your education as disposition and interests.

Or something, I've been awake too long... *thunk*
posted by MildlyDisturbed at 9:04 AM on August 5, 2008


What you ride and where you drink, really not too much of a reflection of your education as disposition and interests.

Plus, people without degrees in high-paying fields can't really afford to be bikers anymore.
posted by kittens for breakfast at 9:10 AM on August 5, 2008


Damn, I love George Saunders.
posted by billysumday at 9:14 AM on August 5, 2008


Not sure why it should surprise him— after all, he was in that biker bar…
posted by hattifattener at 9:28 AM on August 5, 2008


Plus, people without degrees in high-paying fields can't really afford to be bikers anymore.

I think I disagree with you there... they can afford to be bikers, they cannot, however, afford to buy a $22k Harley Electra Glide Classic (or a an 18,000 Yamaha cruiser) and $800 worth of leather logo gear, get $80 in patches and $200 logo sunglasses with a $149 beanie helmet that's worth $18 and stand around in Ed's Generic Biker Bar talking about all the places they hauled their motorcycle behind their truck to and rode 30 miles around

If you're into 2 wheels and the road, you can get a decent used cruiser for less than $2k generally and gear for ~$200. The fuel cost savings of riding a couple of days a week to work would probably pay for you to be a biker after 2 or 3 years in most states.

Well, unless you died, in which case that wouldn't pay back too well...
posted by MildlyDisturbed at 9:33 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


The first time I read a George Saunders story I felt like someone had just thrown cold water in my face. Like it was so good it required me to sit up and PAY ATTENTION. Thanks for the post.
posted by tula at 9:46 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


" the first of a series of pickle novels, showing, don't you know, the whole pickle district, and perhaps following a family of pickle workers for four or five generations."

Laugh if you wish, but consider the centrality of pickle and generations in the Booker Prize winning Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie.
posted by honest knave at 10:17 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


"If you're into 2 wheels and the road, you can get a decent used cruiser for less than $2k generally and gear for ~$200."

Or you could forego the cruiser image and get a more utilitarian bike (standard, dual-sport, or tourer, depending on your commute). My dual-sport puts me about eye-level with most SUVs, which allows me to see much better in city traffic. It's also way lighter than a cruiser, and gets 45/55 mpg (better, if I ever get around to doing the valve adjustment); and the suspension eats up potholes, frost heaves, and the like. Cruisers look cool, but they're not great on ergonomics (you're sitting back on your bony tailbone instead your fleshy hindquarters), and most are heavy (meaning less maneuverability and worse fuel economy). But anyone who cares what you ride outside of an intellectual curiosity ain't a real biker. All types are welcome, as long as you're on two wheels.
posted by Eideteker at 10:25 AM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


His Sea Oak is maybe my favorite short story ever.

I first read that story in the 1999 O. Henry Awards collection, and I liked it so much that I actually wrote him a fan letter. (I was seventeen at the time, and I suffered badly from Enthusiasm.) Anyway, he very kindly wrote back, and a short correspondence ensued, culminating in a shocking confession on his part: that he secretly found the Baroness hotter than Fräulein Maria.
posted by Powerful Religious Baby at 10:50 AM on August 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


Ooh, it's the perfect excuse for me to post this link: George Saunders, Victor Pelevin, and why surrealism has become the framework for our mediated lives.
posted by whir at 10:50 AM on August 5, 2008 [4 favorites]


Ooh, it's the perfect excuse for me to post this link: George Saunders, Victor Pelevin, and why surrealism has become the framework for our mediated lives.

+1000 points for mentioning Pelevin.
posted by nasreddin at 10:58 AM on August 5, 2008


George Saunders! My favorite is Brad Carrigan, American.
posted by nonmyopicdave at 11:27 AM on August 5, 2008


I've only read the first two links, but I'm deeply concerned that this man may have something useful to say about contemporary fiction.
posted by Clay201 at 11:29 AM on August 5, 2008


Nothing against this Saunders fellow, who does seem like a good guy and a talented writer and all. But I would have been happier if it really was George Sanders.

Damn, he was cool.
posted by Naberius at 11:32 AM on August 5, 2008


Now, I'm a George Saunders fan, too. Thanks for this thread.
posted by misha at 12:07 PM on August 5, 2008


The Experimental Fiction link is cute and funny, but kind of feels like a braindead megaphone screaming in my ear, missing the point of whole swaths of great fiction. Or maybe I'm just saying that because it wounded me to my core? I can't really tell. I just saw that he teaches creative writing to undergrads though - that's enough to make anyone bitter.
posted by naju at 12:10 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


First link made me immediately think of this
posted by mmrtnt at 12:10 PM on August 5, 2008


Just what kind of biker bar was this?
posted by jonmc at 12:10 PM on August 5, 2008


Just what kind of biker bar was this?
The right kind?
posted by scrump at 12:21 PM on August 5, 2008


Just what kind of biker bar was this?

The kind McCain hangs out in?
posted by mmrtnt at 12:27 PM on August 5, 2008


Saunders is my favorite living author, and yet I didn't know until now that he writes a weekly humor piece for the Guardian. Thanks, Plexi.
posted by ferdydurke at 12:42 PM on August 5, 2008 [1 favorite]


And to be super-experimental, one could have Lillian, at the black table, turn into a chimp. To show that bourgeois life is a sham. But when she is a chimp, she is still Lillian. That is the deep part. Her husband, Brian, likes her better as a chimp and always makes her banana milkshakes. Until one day a milkshake develops vocal cords and begs Brian to spare him, because he is terrified of chimps. In retaliation, Lillian has an affair with an orang-utan, who is either from the zoo or from another experimental story. See how edgy that is? You will never look at your wife, a milkshake or a chimp in the same way again. Whenever you see these things, you will be like: I am a capitalist oppressor.
Whoooooaaaaaaaaa.
posted by jason's_planet at 1:20 PM on August 5, 2008


Anyone here read "CommComm"? Good to see he's getting his FPP due.
posted by docpops at 1:26 PM on August 5, 2008


What an awesome writer. Thanks plexi!
posted by JHarris at 2:23 PM on August 5, 2008


MetaFilter: Shirts off, it's time for beanie-wienies.
posted by turgid dahlia at 3:02 PM on August 5, 2008


Sea Oak made me want to write again after I thought I'd quit. But instead of telling Saunders this when I met him briefly, I ended up blathering about how I have a family member who works at the inspiration for CivilWarLand. He was very kind, and hopefully no longer remembers the Chris-Farley-Paul-McCartneyesque moment.
posted by gnomeloaf at 3:48 PM on August 5, 2008


Well, I've gotta go buy Pastoralia now because I can't read a short story of that length online, but just the first little bit of "Sea Oak" sold me on buying a short story collection for the first time in many, many moons. This bit for example?

If I had my way I'd move everybody up to Canada. It's nice there. Very polite. We went for a weekend last fall and got a flat tire and these two farmers with bright-red faces insisted on fixing it, then springing for dinner, then starting a college fund for the babies. They sent us the stock certificates a week later, along with a photo of all of us eating cobbler at a diner. But moving to Canada takes bucks.

That's gold.
posted by gompa at 11:00 PM on August 5, 2008


Just what kind of biker bar was this?

One of the bikers was called StudAss. You figure it out.
posted by PeterMcDermott at 2:07 AM on August 6, 2008


George Saunders has very little human feeling - about the only thing you take away from his writing is that he is very impressed with himself.
posted by dydecker at 3:26 AM on August 6, 2008


When I rode seriously (I did do a SS1K, so I DO qualify ... ), we always waved at the hog riders; we wanted to make sure that they knew that we had seen them, so we could phone in their location when their ride broke down.

Riding a motorcycle and being a biker are not really synonymous; there's an awful lot of bikers out there who don't really ride. I always got a kick out of asking other folks on bikes what the longest day ride was ... anything approaching 1000 miles brought a knowing smile, to both of us.

"Work to ride, ride to work."
posted by aldus_manutius at 5:58 AM on August 6, 2008


Alternatively: Far-fetched Fiction by Robert Rankin.
posted by Skyanth at 6:27 AM on August 6, 2008


George Saunders has very little human feeling

Wow, I don't see that at all. Care to elaborate?
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 7:28 AM on August 6, 2008


they’d bought their “hogs” with royalties from a book they’d co-written, Feminine Desire In Jane Austen."

Royalties from one book of lit crit can buy two Harleys .... hmmm... that's outside the realm of realist fiction for me.
posted by grooveologist at 9:45 AM on August 6, 2008


« Older It's that time again. While they aren't otherwise ...  |  Who can forget when Harmony an... Newer »


This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments