Jon by George Saunders is one of the short stories included in his collection, In Persuasion Nation. This sci-fi story is set in an advertising research facility where select kids are set up in separate living quarters and “programmed” to test certain products for marketability. Our protagonist and first-person narrator, Jon – who also goes by the name Randy, as we are to read later – is one of these kids.
Life inside the facility is controlled by the firm that runs it. It is so controlled, in fact, that even their feelings and disposition are being regulated by specific formulation injected at specific times in a day. When they lack the motivation to work, they watch video clips of a parent speaking of their sacrifice to get them in. They are raised and trained to perform their tasks as product testers so much that they spew product codes and conjure product spiels at will and describe everything they see, hear, and feel by alluding to the advertisements selling those products. I would venture to say, even, that they are practically robotized to ensure maximum results.
If I wish to compare my love to a love I have previous knowledge of, I do not want to stand there in the wind casting about for my metaphor! If I want to say like, Carolyn, remember that RE/MAX one where as the redhead kid falls asleep holding that Teddy bear rescued from the trash, the bear comes alive and winks, and the announcer goes, Home is the place where you find yourself suddenly no longer longing from home (LI 34451) – if I want to say to Carolyn, Carolyn, LI 34451, check it out, that is how I feel about you – well, then, I want to say it! I want to possess all the articulate I can, because otherwise there we will be, in non-designer clothes, no longer even on TrendSetters & TasteMakers gum cards with our photos on them, and I will turn to her and say, Honey, uh, honey, there is a certain feeling but I cannot name it and cannot cite a precedent-type feeling, but trust me, dearest, wow, do I ever feel it for you, right now.
It cannot be denied, however, that they are humans with specific needs and wants that must be taken care of. Despite their robotic tasks and drug-regulated temperament, they are still teenagers with raging hormones and subliminal urges, one of which is sexual in nature. The people who run the facility are aware of this, and instead of curtailing these urges, they do something to address them. Jon, however, had other things in mind: he slips from his own little Privacy Tarp one night and creeps into Carolyn’s un-Velcroed one. The consequences of the act consummated on that one night force both Jon and Carolyn to make a life-altering decision: a choice between the controlled, safe environment and regulated life inside the research facility, and the dangerous, uncertain world beyond its walls.
Perhaps a good dose of Aurabon® will make things better?
Reading this short story is like being inside Jon’s head – a head addled with product codes, advertisements, and confusion. You could practically hear the whir and blip of Jon’s brain as he processes his thoughts in the way he is trained to, grammatical errors and all. Having known no other life other than the one he has lived inside the facility, the task of making an intelligent decision and understanding the consequences of that decision must be an entirely foreign and herculean feat for Jon. He knows nothing of the outside world; he must be terrified, but at the same time curious about it. He is also aware that leaving the facility means he will have to relinquish all the comforts and even the reverence that comes with being a product tester. On this score, Mr. Slippen, Jon’s (and Carolyn’s) Coordinator who has served as his guardian in the facility, tries to help, but in the end, all that matters is the decision that he himself had to make.
If you were Jon, what would your choice be?
Published in: In Persuasion Nation
Rating: 4/5 stars