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Story Reviews: Boys and Girls by Alice Munro, and Jon by George Saunders

Guest Contributions

The Short Story Station sought the permission of Lynai to publish her reviews of last month’s short story selections. Lynai is “a lawyer, a teacher, a wife to my first and only boyfriend, a booklover/hoarder, and a trying-hard-but-always-frustrated writer.” She is also one of our book club’s oldest members in terms years of membership.

Thank you, Lynai, for granting us the permission to have this published over here. And to our frequent travelers, you may find the original post of her reviews of these short stories and more on her blog, It’s A Wonderful Bookworld.

Some friends from the book club have recently put up The Short Story Station which aims to promote the love for short stories. The collaborative efforts of the people behind this wonderful blog are really worth commending. I, too, have recently acquired a preference for short fiction, so I decided to join The Short Story Station in its monthly short story features. For September, the featured stories were Alice Munro’s Boys and Girls and George Saunders’ Jon.

It was my first time to read the works of these authors, although my reading list for September also included a short story collection by Alice Munro. I loved both stories, despite an apparent difference in both style and prose.

In Alice Munro’s Boys and Girls, I loved how the setting was beautifully placed. The story takes place in a rural country where the narrator tells how it is growing up as a young girl in a farm whose father raised silver foxes, and when the time is ripe, would kill these foxes, striped them of their furs and sold the pelt to traders. The story’s beginning is somewhat slow, as the author laid down the setting in detail: how cold it was during winter, how the narrator as a little girl would help her father in the farm carrying water and raking grass, how afraid she and her little brother were of the dark,. The tone is laid back and the prose simple and crisp, yet in this simplicity, Alice Munro deftly weaved an interesting exposition on how society views gender roles — that the men should work on the farm and the women should stay and manage the home. I sympathize with the confusion and discontent of the girl narrator as to why her brother is allowed to do anything he pleases while she cannot. I also understand how and why she has grown to accept her own “femininity” — noticing how long her hair was and how she wanted to make her room look fancy with lace curtains. Boys and Girls is an excellent start into my exploration of Alice Munro’s stories and I find myself enjoying her other stories in Selected Stories which I am reading at present.

Everybody at the table was looking at me. I nodded, swallowing food with great difficulty. To my shame, tears flooded my eyes.

My father made a curt sound of disgust. “What did you do that for?”

I didn’t answer. I put down my fork and waited to be sent from the table, still not looking up.

But this did not happen. For some time nobody said anything, then Laird said matter-of-factly, “She’s crying.”

“Never mind,” my father said. He spoke with resignation, even good humor the words which absolved and dismissed me for good. “She’s only a girl,” he said.

I didn’t protest that, even in my heart. Maybe it was true.

3/5 stars.

Jon by George Saunders, on the other hand, is a story about a young man (teenager?) inside a facility where he and other young people are implanted with microchips and are given the task to rate and review certain products in exchange for a lavish lifestyle. He gets a girl pregnant, the girl wanted to get out of the facility, and Jon is torn between following the love of his life to an uncertain world and remaining in the luxury of his comfort zone.

What immediately caught my attention was George Saunders’ prose. His was the kind of narrative and tone that quickly engaged me the moment I started reading notwithstanding the fact that I didn’t have any clue what he was talking about at first.The humor was something I was not prepared for but truly enjoyed, although of course, what happened in the story was more than funny. The setting reminded me of Somni’s futuristic world in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, although Jon is not a clone but a human designed for a consumerist society. Jon is a sympathetic character who, despite living in a controlled environment and having an implant on his nape, is still a human susceptible to the consequences of love and loving. Reading Jon made me all the more curious about George Saunders and I can’t wait to read more of his other works.

Maybe we can come to be normal, and sit on our porch at night, the porch of our own house, like at LI 87326, where the mom knits and the dad plays guitar and the little kid works very industrious with his Speak & Spell, and when we talk, it will make total sense, and when we look at the stars and moon, if choosing to do that, we will not think of LI 44387, where the moon frowns down at this dude due to he is hiding in his barn eating Rebel CornBells instead of proclaiming his SnackLove aloud, we will not think of LI 09383, where this stork flies through some crying stars who are crying due to the baby who is getting born is the future Mountain Dew Guy, we will not think of that alien at LI 33081 descending from the sky going, Just what is this thing called a Cinnabon?

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.

4/5 stars.

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