Very early this morning, as I was sipping my first cup of coffee, I was reading the final story in George Saunders’ fine collection, Pastoralia. The title of that story is “The Falls.” The story’s protagonist is a sorry creature named Morse, who lives in a tiny rented home near an unimportant river, resentful of those living in the larger homes past which he is walking on his way home from work. The following paragraph introduces another character, whose interior dialogue has actually inspired this post:
From behind him on the path came a series of arrhythmic whacking steps. He glanced back to find Aldo Cummings, an odd duck who, though nearly forty, still lived with his mother. Cummings didn’t work and had his bangs cut straight across and wore gym shorts even in the dead of winter. Morse hoped Cummings wouldn’t collar him.
We see that Morse, a small, struggling, conventional man, fears the possibility of having to interact with this weird character, Cummings. Cummings, for his part, as we shall see below, feels superior to Morse, despite the fact that the Morses of this world would unanimously consider Cummings to be a pathetic loser.
George Saunders masterfully allows Cummings to present himself through the device of the following stream of consciousness paragraphs. In so doing, Saunders also brilliantly satirizes that which makes bad writing bad, even while pretentious “writers” imagine their adjective-burdened, esoteric-noun-laced “purple prose” to be brilliant :
Cummings bobbed past the restored gristmill, pleased at having so decisively snubbed Morse, a smug member of the power elite in this conspiratorial Village, one of the league of oppressive oppressors who wouldn’t know the lot of the struggling artist if the lot of the struggling artist came up with great and beleaguered dignity and bit him on the polyester ass. Over the Pine Street bridge was a fat cloud. To an interviewer in his head, Cummings said he felt the possible rain made the fine bright day even finer and brighter because of the possibility of its loss. The possibility of its ephemeral loss. The ephemeral loss of the day to the fleeting passages of time. Preening time. Preening nascent time, the blackguard. Time made wastrels of us all, did it not, with its gaunt cheeks and its tombly reverberations and its admonishing glances with bony fingers. Bony fingers pointed as if in admonishment, as if to say, “I admonish you to recall your own eventual nascent death, which, being on its way, human, is forthcoming. Forthcoming, mortal coil, and don’t think its ghastly pass won’t settle on your furrowed brow, pronto, once I select your fated number from my very dusty book with this selfsame bony finger with which I’m pointing at you now, you vanity of vanities, you luster, you shirker of duties, as you shuffle after your worldly pleasure centers.”
That was some good stuff, if only he could remember it through the rest of his stroll and the coming storm, to scrawl in a passionate hand on his yellow pad. He thought with longing ardor of his blank yellow pad, he thought. He thought with longing ardor of his blank yellow pad, on which, this selfsame day, the first meager scrawlings which would presage his nascent burgeoning fame would be wrought, or rather writ, and someday someone would dig up his yellow pad and virtually cry eureka when they realized what a teeming fragment of minutia, and yet crucial minutia, had been found, and wouldn’t all kinds of literary women in short black jackets want to meet him then!
In the future he must always remember to bring his pad everywhere.
There are not a few among those publishing their efforts on the various writers’ group pages of Facebook who would profit from the reexamination of their own writing—not to say their own mode of living--in the light of George Saunders’ high satire.