Stan's Report
May 27, 2012 10:01 PM   Subscribe

Stan's Report (a short story). Stan waited for me to ask him a question, hoping to tease some curiosity out of me, I suppose, though I don’t want to make assumptions about Stan’s intentions. Whatever his intent, I chose not to ask anything about it, not wanting to start my thinking down that road. It wouldn’t have been fair to B. to talk about him and what he said or meant since he wasn’t there to defend himself or to amend the tone or the full context. I preferred to turn my attention to my e-mail, but I didn’t want to ignore Stan or imply that I disapproved of his interest in sharing his news with me. He had a right to say whatever he wanted and it was up to me to choose how I’d deal with it.
posted by shivohum (23 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
knots of conjecture
posted by unliteral at 10:17 PM on May 27, 2012

What the what? Is this a metaphor for some kind of complicated system?
posted by Kevin Street at 10:23 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

No it is how some people's brains work.
posted by silby at 11:04 PM on May 27, 2012

I'd have gone crazy with a stapler about halfway through. You lie, Stan!
posted by Kevin Street at 11:05 PM on May 27, 2012 [1 favorite]

It's somebody respecting George Saunders very, very hard.
posted by vitia at 11:05 PM on May 27, 2012 [2 favorites]

The protagonist was basically the way every corporation I've come in contact with wants its employees to be: a pleasant, neutral, non-judgemental cipher whose top priority is the performance of his duties, with no life outside of work to get in the way. Picture a Dwight Schrute type, but with every last molecule of ambition removed. Think about this bit:

'I returned to my cubicle, thinking I’d put in some extra time at the end of the day to make up for the time I’d spent with B., which was not work related.'

How long had he been with B.? Five minutes? Maybe ten? What normal human would have a thought like that?

I guess this piece is supposed to be literary fiction, but I think it's a horror story.
posted by KHAAAN! at 12:14 AM on May 28, 2012 [5 favorites]

I'm probably missing some technical underlying point to this story.

But wow, it's really terrible.
posted by miss tea at 3:02 AM on May 28, 2012

I'm sure I saw this story, or at least something remarkably like it, on AskMe recently.
posted by flabdablet at 3:08 AM on May 28, 2012

It's a perfect example of how people in the prairie dog community may have enough tools to process inter-personal communication, but lack the one professional skill necessary to function in that environment; the ability to mentally tell someone that "off" is the general direction in which you wish they would fuck.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 3:15 AM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

I don't know how to adequately react to this story. If I were on tumblr, I would simply provide a link and then comment, under it, "oh god all the feels", but for MetaFilter this seems lacking.

I suppose "this story hit too close to home" will have to suffice.

Though I must admit I feel jealous of a fictional character. In the end, the protagonist was able to place his trust in Stan. I don't think I could overcome my own paranoia, if I were in his place.
posted by KChasm at 4:08 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

...I should probably specify that my previous comment was in no way intended as a slight against tumblr. Rather, I have been using tumblr a fair amount lately, so the hypothetical italicized comment was my initial reaction. This is crucial context which I failed to provide.

I apologize for any misunderstandings which my comment may have caused.
posted by KChasm at 4:12 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

I'm glad I don't work in a place like the one in this story. Or think like the people in this story. Or have to read any stories like this again. Is this perhaps some kind of dystopian, cautionary tale? Did it really win an award?

By the way, are quotation marks out of style nowadays?
posted by tommyD at 4:45 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Huizinga, in The Waning of the Middle Ages, points out that reproducing visual detail to an almost microscopic level in 15th century paintings -- e.g., Jan Van Eyck -- enchants the viewer, whereas the identical technique in the poetry of the era produces prolix dullness. A technique that works perfectly in one art form may be disastrous in another.

I think that's what we have here. Interesting technique, wrong medium. This sort of endlessly penetrating and recursive inquiry into motive and meaning in interpersonal relations can work in film, such as Last Year at Marienbad. The trace of a smile, the posture of a body, the fall of a shadow can mean a dozen things, and resonate with other hints at emotion or intention from that scene 30 minutes ago. In prose, though, without the filmmaker's visual and aural tools, the result is suffocating fussiness.

I'd call it a worthy experiment. It fails, but most experiments do. Experiments are still worth doing.
posted by Slithy_Tove at 5:03 AM on May 28, 2012 [4 favorites]

Change the context to a family, where Stan is the abusive partner, and I think we are looking inside the mind of an enabler/codependent.

I hope this story was some kind of metaphor for something, because if it was just a straight-up "slice of life", it failed miserably.
posted by gjc at 5:27 AM on May 28, 2012

It all makes perfect sense once you realize that the protagonist is Canadian.
posted by unSane at 5:53 AM on May 28, 2012 [2 favorites]

(Seriously, I think the story is simply a thought experiment in how someone would behave who always tried to give other people the benefit of the doubt).
posted by unSane at 5:54 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

a thought experiment in how someone would behave who always tried to give other people the benefit of the doubt

A lifetime of reading science fiction was leading me to expect a twist in which the narrator turned out to be a robot or something like that. A robot experiencing hard prejudice from "B", and soft prejudice from Stan.

Turns out that he's (?) just hugely focused on the ethics of interpersonal interactions. Probably to the point of it having a detrimental effect on the quality of his life. One nice detail...the narrator refuses to name "B", out of concerning for biasing the reader against him. On the other hand, Stan is just as likely to be engaged in bad behavior as "B", but Stan gets identified by name? Why?

I suspect the explanation would also go a long ways towards explaining why the narrator can't stop giving Stan the benefit of the doubt.
posted by Ipsifendus at 6:11 AM on May 28, 2012 [3 favorites]

Thanks, I'd never heard of this guy. I also really like this story "Claim," from the Paris Review.

It's a tough road, trying to take an "unliterary" prose register and make prose fiction out of it. George Saunders is a good referent, yeah. So is Stephen Dixon (more in "Claim" than in "Stan's Report") and so is Matthew Klam. The way he uses the workplace environment reminds me a little bit of Ed Park's novel Personal Days. But I don't think the story is really about work or the workplace in any way that matters. I think its aim is to force you into an uncomfortable identification with a narrator whose behavior feels wrong, but whose wrongness is hard to articulate. At least I assume you're supposed to feel uncomfortable while you read it. I did.
posted by escabeche at 6:41 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Here's an interview with Pourciau. He manages a public library. He's confused that people compare him to Raymond Carver and so am I.
posted by escabeche at 6:49 AM on May 28, 2012

I'm surprised by the unliking. I thought that was a really well-crafted little piece. And apparently not enough paranoia and too much paranoia look nearly the same from the outside.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:00 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

I also really like this story "Claim," from the Paris Review.

Thanks for the pointer. Also, he has a book of short stories out -- Invite, which won the Iowa Short Fiction Award.

I think its aim is to force you into an uncomfortable identification with a narrator whose behavior feels wrong, but whose wrongness is hard to articulate.

Definitely. I feel like the story is about someone who is, as Stan says, in total denial about reality. You see it from the first line: "It’s hard to live in peace if you think people are out to undermine or deceive you. Why would they do that? What have you done? It wouldn’t make sense so how can you accept it?"

Everything in his thought process seems laboriously constructed to avoid the possibility of thinking anyone may have any bad intentions towards him, because that may disrupt his "peace." He takes refuge in the assumption that any malicious intent wouldn't make "sense," and intellectualizes every minute social matter in order to avoid seeing it. His thought process is therefore bizarre and robotic, completely weird.

Everything substantive Stan says about him is true, and the narrator at some level knows it.
posted by shivohum at 7:09 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seems realistic to me, excepting maybe the narrator's extreme passivity. I've quit jobs over my inability to cope with this sort of interpersonal attrition and the narrator's inability to accept maliciousness and spiteful pisstaking as causes for people's behavior takes me out of the story. Some people seem to harbor a grudge against or take special delight in fucking with the quiet and unthreatening.

I was making my way through a lengthy document when the colleague who sat in the cubicle next to Stan’s stopped by. He leaned in, didn’t say hello and didn’t smile. He had a message to deliver, that was all.

I heard you and Stan, and I heard them, he said. They were talking about you.

He winked at me and walked away.

This crap really happens and people really think its funny, which is why I have my seat booked next to Professor Farnsworth's.
posted by Appropriate Username at 7:52 AM on May 28, 2012 [1 favorite]

As a worker in cubicle-land, I recognize all these characters too well. Thank god for telework.
posted by Robin Kestrel at 4:43 PM on May 28, 2012

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