“The Semplica Girl Diaries,” y’all.
One of the best short stories I’ve ever read. Anywhere. Anyhow.
George Saunders quadruple dog dared “The Gift of the Magi,” plunking it into the suburbs, replacing romantic love with parental love, wringing such pathos out of the ghastliest aspects of late capitalism.
And the story absolutely gets girls. Spoilers ahoy.
The narrator is a hard-working father to two girls, eager to help them be happy in a near-future only barely spoofing ours. Of desperate economic inequality and a flippant, smug 1%. Of low-wage jobs, conspicuous consumption, and Xploitation to the Xtreme of the world’s most vulnerable.
In his daughter-cherishing efforts, he uses improbable lottery winnings to purchase a modest “SG array,” which the story soon reveals to be young girls from impoverished nations, hung on a string to decorate glossy suburban yards.
Strung up. On a string. Through their skulls and brains. Which are improbably not harmed by the process that Dr Semplica invented.
There, in the dark, fifteen (I counted) SGs hanging silently, white smocks in moonlight. Breathtaking. Wind picks up, they go off at slight angle, smocks and hair (long, flowing, black) assuming same angle. Incredible flowers (tulips, roses, something bright orange, long stalky things of white clusters) shaking in wind with paper-on-paper sound. From inside, flute music. Makes one think of ancient times and affluent men of those times building great gardens, roaming through while holding forth on philosophy, bounty of earth having been lassoed for the pleasure of etc., etc.
Read this story, really. Because what truer, more feminist indictment of exploitation can there be? Girls from poorer nations used like well-groomed, flowering shrubs. As a favor to them.
And when girls flip their scripts, the full force of the police-creditor-corporatocracy clamps down. The girls waffle their dads. And anyone else that tries to string them up.
Which brings me to a more realist writer, whose girls try just as hard to flip their scripts. Whose scripts need flipping just as desperately.
Whose girls get just as strung up.
Antonya Nelson is one of the better writers you’ve never heard of. A bard of lonely alcoholic women in the Midwest.
Class is as central to her as it is to Saunders, as it must be to any chronicler of the zeitgeist.
And the troubles of girlhood, or of women who skipped their girlhoods (of all women) weigh as heavily.
In “Eminent Domain,” from Some Fun, a bunch of richies at a party complain about how horrible teenage girls are.
“Yet it’s the boys who drive up your car insurance,” said a father.
“Still, they’re easier than the girls.” …
Teenage girls: This one stole her grandmother’s silver. That one drove a car into the swimming pool. Another left the children she was babysitting to go to the liquor store with her boyfriend. … She’d said to her mother, each and every day, “Die, you psycho cunt!” These girls. These lessons they had taught their parents and that their parents recited. They were presented like poker hands, wagered and outdone, one-upped.
And, indeed, these girls wallow in drugs, rage at their parents, and run away.
The narrator is an actor dude, a serial lover of arts patron wives. But a teen runaway, daughter of an arts scion in his circle, catches his eye and compels his futile, mildly self-defeating obsession with her.
As in the “Semplica Girl Diaries,” this daughter continually evades his control. She resists being molded and hardened into a trophy wife–for either the young scions or for the alt/artist narrator whose desires aren’t much different from a father’s.
“Teenage girls are the canaries in the coal mine,” one of the sincere party guests posited. … “We think they’re so hard to live with, and yet just think how hard it must be to be them.”
And while the Saunders story ends with the SG girls and daughters still free and loved, “Eminent Domain” ends with the girl returning from her rumspringa, obedient, washed, betrothed. Not apparently using psychoactives.
But destined for a future as a well-groomed flowering shrub.