Tuesday December 14th, 2010

“I tend to foster drama via bleakness.”

saundersAt the New Yorker’s Book Bench, Deborah Treisman interviews George Saunders, whose story “Escape from Spiderhead” appears in the magazine this week. Treisman starts with a question about the darkness of some of Saunders’ dystopian themes. His response, in part:

I’ve done a lot of (mostly defensive) thinking about this darkness thing, and have formulated a good amount of shtick along the way. So thanks for asking! One of the most truthful answers I’ve come up with is just to paraphrase Flannery O’Connor, who said that a writer can choose what he writes about, but can’t choose what he makes live. Somehow—maybe due to simple paucity of means—I tend to foster drama via bleakness. If I want the reader to feel sympathy for a character, I cleave the character in half, on his birthday. And then it starts raining. And he’s made of sugar.

Are people made of sugar? Is it raining? How often does a guy get cut in half on his birthday? Still, the story about the sugar-guy being cut in half on his birthday in the rain is not saying: this happens. It is saying, If this happened, what would that be like? Its subject becomes, say, undeserved misery—which does happen. We know that, we feel it. And maybe (the argument goes) it was necessary to make this exaggerated sugar-guy and cut him in half in order to remind ourselves, at sufficient volume, that undeserved misery exists—to sort of rarify and present that feeling so we might feel it anew.

Anyway, that’s the theory.

I pointed to another worthwhile interview with Saunders a while back.