(listen to this while reading.)
Text from last weekend: “There’s no way for this not to sound like a phallus joke, but I bought this gigantic carrot and it’s awesome. It looks like a geode inside.”
It was a picture text (of a legitimate carrot! Geez.), and it did look like a geode inside. Remarkable! But that’s not all.
Notably, I don’t hear from the carrot-purchaser regularly. Often enough, but not daily. Apparently, I’m that girl to text when your carrot looks like a geode. So, randomly, this old pal sexts me a carrot. Excellent. The only really creepy part of this scenario is that as I received this text, I was driving, listening to a particularly genius story prominently featuring a geode. Now, my brother is a geologist, so it’s likely I discuss geodes more often than the average bear, but to receive a picture in which the photographer has seen a geode within a carrot while listening to a story in which the writer has seen a geode within the climax…
What are the odds of that? Jung would call this synchronicity, when apparently unrelated events that are unlikely to just randomly occur together are experienced as occurring together in a meaningful way. Good fiction happens like this often. When you take the ending of Oscar Wao as a cosmic sign, and manage your own relationship accordingly. When you read the new Zadie Smith story in the New Yorker and find yourself choking on a marble-shaped icecube that very evening. When stories find details that haunt you, and you can’t help be re-experience them, can’t help but see your life differently for having read them.
Yes, I too am reading the new George Saunders. Or, more precisely, I suppose I’m listening to him read it to me. I respect a guy who does his own audiobooks. (Like when John Green made a version of himself reading The Fault in Our Stars because people might want to hear him, even though he thought, and I agree, that it made more sense to have a girl read since narrator Hazel is a girl, and even though the girl who read did a great job.) Driving I-26 between Charleston and Columbia is not a particularly inspiring activity. To battle the malaise, I most often listen to music, and, occasionally, I listen to an audiobook.
It’s a short drive though, so, Monday morning I was trying to finish up a story on my morning drive to work, when what did I see but the bumper of a car on the side of the road WHILE LISTENING TO A STORY IN WHICH A CAR BUMPER FALLS OFF.
There are tons of cars with missing bumpers. This isn’t quite as remarkable as the carrot-geode. But would I have noticed the car bumper if Saunders had not so deftly planted it in my imagination?
I like to think so. If I’ve got half a prayer of making myself into a decent writer, it’s imperative to find these details and to feel those resonances. It’s a special and privileged position to feel like the universe is sorting itself according to your fictional obsessions. But if I just happen to meet someone born on the Tenth of December, I plan to back away slowly.
For a more serious discussion of this collection that’s made me cry out loud “oh, God, I’ll never be good enough!” and, alternatively, made me feel like secretly, maybe I too am a genius, I’d suggest this Times article by Joel Lovell. It’s not exactly a review, in that it approaches the collection from a place if not of love then at least of awe. Lovell does offer some achingly precise insights and some gracefully drawn connections, and it’s well-written enough to seem that it is deserving of discussing Saunders.