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Entries in #slate (1)

Wednesday
Jan162013

A George Saunders article--but not that one

There's been a lot of buzz online about the New York Times' recent piece on George Saunders in honor of The Tenth of December, his most recent short story collection. And while I read that article a couple weeks ago and enjoyed it, I don't actually remember all that much about it, save for his description of being on a plane that was quite likely to crash. (What can I say? I'm a mildly nervous flyer who lives abroad.)

However, I absolutely adored this other George Saunders piece in Slate, an author-editor book review that's a conversation between Saunders and his longtime editor, Andy Ward. Fellow Stockholm writer Angela Mi Young Hur sent this one my way, and it's definitely worth your time. (No matter who you are, if you read this blog at all, ever, I can guarantee the time-worthiness.)

Saunders is a devotee of the short story form, pointing out that "...at least three of the stories in this book were 'novels' until they came to their senses. That seems to be the definition of 'novel' for me: a story that hasn’t yet discovered a way to be brief." We don't have this in common, him and me; I wrote short stories in grad school, because it seemed as though that was What One Did (and they were way easier to discuss and review in workshop), but they couldn't make me like it. Nor could they make me particularly good at it. However, he goes on to talk about knowing when a piece is done, and it rings so very, very true for longer pieces as well:

I have an internal standard for when a story is done that I can’t really articulate. Maybe it’s just: I know it when I see it. Or: I know it when I don’t see it. It has something to do with making the action feel undeniable. There’s a feeling I get when (in the rereading) the language passes over from language to action: What was mere typing before starts to feel like something that has actually happened. So that can take a while and it’s not just about the language—it’s also a structural thing. If the story is tight and all the scenes are necessary, it helps me to understand what the current section is supposed to be doing—and hence I can know when it’s right and done.

People say this over and over, but there's just this feeling of rightness that comes when things begin to fall into place of their own accord, and this man, as any of you who've read his stories knows, is pretty good at getting his work to that place. He's also very good at talking about that work. So I'll finish with his words:

Part of the process of moving on and doing more work is to regard all past stories as these small clay rabbits you have made and brought to life, which you loved very much during that process, but which then go running off across the barnyard into the mist, with your blessing. So no favorites. I just feel slightly fond of them all.