The Short Story Station chose George Saunders as our author for April. For that, I chose to read Bohemians, the 11th story from In Persuasion Nation.
BOHEMIANS is a first-person story about a boy’s association with two women in his neighborhood and how he changed his sympathies because of what he learns about them. The two women are Mrs. Poltoi and Mrs. Hopanlitski. It seems an ordinary story ripped from an ordinary life of a young boy, but having a closer look at the story; Saunders seems to ask his readers to experience it rather than just read it.
The only other short story of Saunders I read was Jon. And just like Jon, Saunders played with a non-conventional language and odd collection of characters. Saunders, like most short story writers, doesn’t focus on plot or movements. He directs us towards his characters and the emotions playing among them, which I always find very intriguing.
He has a subtle way of introducing his characters and suggests that we categorize them. He mentions that Mrs. Poltoi was stout, bitter, and reclusive. He even went ahead and tells his readers what to expect from her, “When our ball rolled onto her property, she seized it and waddled into her back yard and pitched it into the quarry.” I easily mapped her out as mean and odd.
Her grace made us hate Mrs. Poltoi all the more…What was being crammed in with a bunch of your cousins compared to having your kids killed?
Meanwhile, Mrs. Hopanlitski is the cheerful, caring, and fragile old lady according to Saunders. She bakes for the kids and encourages them during their lowest times. “Never wish harm on yourself or others. You are a lovely child.” Afterwards, that incident with Eddy has to happen. Saunders made us experience undeserved ill, and feel sympathy towards Eddy. Now, that established the difference between the two old ladies. Mrs. Poltoi became the reader’s object of resentment.
“Ach, well,” she said. “Who don’t? This also used to be me. Pee pee pee. I used to dream of a fish who cursed me.”
Subsequently, a huge turn of events occurred. Our narrator has to experience Mrs. Poltoi intimately. He was astonished by the gentleness and understanding the old recluse was hiding. The boy narrated scenarios where Mrs. Poltoi showed characteristics first attributed to Mrs. Hopanlitski.
And, once we believed it, we couldn’t imagine we hadn’t seen it all along.
Saunders played with the reader’s inherent tendency to judge people whether they deserve to be treated nice, fairly, or negatively. Our moral judgment dictates that we expect people to be rewarded according to our categorizations. I think this was an absolutely nice view of things and very challenging.
Rating: 5/5 stars
Collected, In Persuasion Nation