Thursday, June 27, 2013
One horrifying concept and what it means: The Semplica Girls
At the conclusion of George Saunders's story The Semplica Girl Diary in his collection Tenth of December the narrator-diarist, Dad (do we even know his name?) comes to a painful and wistful and in some ways touching realization about his life: he will never achieve his ambitions, his life will be full of trials and disappointments, there will always be others who have or seem to have more. And he realizes, without stating this in any direct or didactic manner, that life is this way, probably for all - and the best he can hope for is to be kind to his family and to others, and that is and must be good enough. It's a perfect Saunders ending - especially for this story that is built upon one of the most horrific concepts in recent literary fiction: the Semplica Girls are women from impoverished countries who sign a contract to decorate the lawns of wealthy Americans as living lawn ornaments - groups of SGs connected by a "microfiber" line that passes through their brains and holds the girls together on a strand - they're hoisted up above the ground for display. So weird and terrifying, like a nightmare - and then we pause and wonder how close this comes to our current use of immigrant labor, to clean our houses, to trim our lawns, etc. - and the SGs are just another step further along that line. The diarist in this story buys a strand of SGs and for a time feels great - his lawn is now as beautiful as everyone else's, people start paying more attention to him, his daughter now has friends who come over to play - until daughters begin to rebel at the horror of the whole concept, freeing the girls, plunging family back into debt (they have to make good on the loss). Story is filled with Saunders's grim humor - the visit from the claims rep for the company, who keeps referring to "them," distancing himself from the contract he's enforcing, the language in Dad's diary with his odd uses of = in place of verb forms of "to be", the crazy TradeMarks such as EzyReleese for the buckle that holds the SGs in place. But it's not a funny story - it's deeply sad and disturbing - and the end, though the SGs are free, is by no means upbeat. They're free to be and do what, exactly? Where have they gone and how will they survive? And the family is back in its sadness, outsiders and misfits who have just blown through a windfall that could have helped them straighten out their lives. The knowledge Dad gains comes at great cost - and in that way, pathetic though he may be, I think we all can identify with him at least to a limited extent. I wouldn't go so far as Berryman - Life friends is boring, but we must not say so - but I do believe life is full of disappointments, and like this narrator somewhere in our interior monologues we are constantly striving for what we don't have, constantly comparing ourselves with others, constantly measuring our lives against the fake standards we see on TV, in magazines, even in books, and our life seems by comparison, sometimes, empty - and it's important to realize that yes, this is our life, this is our family, these are our friends and neighbors, and it's good, it's enough.