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Story Review: Jon by George Saunders

Jon by George Saunders

Jon is a story about the eponymous youngster who lives within the confines of a marketing research center as a laboratory rat. He, with other trendsetters, are held in high regard despite being continually subjected to various consumer product testing. This is in exchange for a comfortable life. The youngsters are given drugs to make them feel happy. They are considered as celebrities with their own set of collectible trade cards. Aside from having to test products, there’s another catch. They are installed with microchips filled with advertising campaigns, ones that are tantamount to their thoughts and memories.

The interesting thing that I find with a Saunders story is that the reader is placed right in the middle of things where one is made to initially feel like nothing is out of place until one realizes that there is something slightly askew. There are registered trademarks (Aurabon®), capitalized nouns (Privacy Tarps), and other quirks that fill each sentence. One wonders what these are for until one understands that ah, this is not a realist story, reality loosely meaning as something that cannot take place in our time and place because of certain elements that do not yet exist. In this case, one of those is the advertising microchip.

There is no lengthy exposition or grand reveal. Jon goes on talking about his life at the center and about Carolyn, another of his kind and his love whom he gets pregnant at the early part of the story. He has had enough of the educational video of “It’s Yours to Do With What You Like!” Why not creep inside Carolyn’s Privacy Tarp and do The Real Thing?

The unnamed marketing research center at least recognizes their sexual needs, hence, the video on self-pleasuring. They are even allowed to opt out of the program if they really, really want to. There is a shred of humanity in these, but are they enough substitutes for one’s ability to think of own thoughts instead of borrowing them from advertising stills and jingles? What happens when the female youngsters get pregnant? What happens when the youngsters get out of the center? What happens when they no longer have the advertising microchip and they are left to think, and live, for themselves?

In terms of what we will think of, I do not know. When I think of what we will think of, I draw this like total blank and get scared, so scared my Peripheral Area flares up green, like when I have drank too much soda, but tell the truth I am curious, I think I am ready to try.

As mentioned above, Jon and the rest are given happy drugs if they are feeling down. This is another element that resonates with Huxley’s themes in his novel Brave New World. It might be dismissive to say that Jon is Brave New World condensed into a short story because Saunders, after all, is great at prose. He has that distinct voice which makes the Huxley themes more beautiful and more accessible.

Besides, isn’t Jon more relevant in this era of consumerism? There had been essays proclaiming the victory of Huxley over Orwell. This doesn’t have to be a bad thing for Orwell, who feared that fear, in the future, may be used as a tool to control society. We’re glad it did not happen, and we probably have to thank Orwell for this. And what of Huxley? What is Saunders trying to do in this story? Is he trying to point the projectile Huxley predicted to a more precise place? Or is he doing an Orwell?

Whatever Saunders is trying to do, one cannot ignore the force that propels this story from beginning to end. It is that bond between Jon and Carolyn, and that bond is called love.


Published in: In Persuasion Nation

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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