‘Puppy’ by George Saunders

Two women briefly cross paths. Marie lives in a big house, drives a Lexus, and indulges her three demanding children. Callie lives on the rough side of town and tries to keep her son off the behaviour- controlling medication doctors have advised him to take. The women meet when Marie and her children visit Callie to buy a puppy she is selling. “It was a nice pup,” thinks Callie, “White, with brown around one eye. Cute. If the lady showed up, she’d definitely want it.” But when Marie shows up, she misunderstands what is happening in the household, and, with the bravado of the privileged, initiates a staggering wave of destruction. Saunders often seeks out the absurdity of American social structures, makes something that is familiar laughable through a kind of exaggeration. ‘Puppy’ is from a collection that came out after America became involved in Afghanistan and Iraq though, after the no man’s land between different Americans became greater and deeper, and it is part of a body of work that is both darker and more illuminating than Saunder’s earlier fiction.

From Tenth of December (Random House), first published in The New Yorker, May 28, 2007 and available online here

‘The Semplica Girl Diaries’ by George Saunders

When I heard, only a year or so ago, that Saunders was a master of the short story, indeed acclaimed in the USA as the best, I immediately went out and bought Tenth of December. I found his bizarre stories were unlike any I’d read before. Semplica Girls are the ultimate status symbol – girls from third-world countries paid to ‘decorate’ the lawns of wealthy Americans. They are strung up on microlines that run through their brains and in their flowing white gowns are a kind of human washing line. Supposedly this does not hurt them. Of course things go wrong. Told in diary form, this story explodes the hollowness of the American dream, well and truly.

(First published in The New Yorker, 2012, and subsequently in his collection Tenth of December)