ANOTHER ENTRY IN OUR READING CHALLENGE–
— ATTEMPTING TO ANSWER THE QUESTION: “WHICH STORY IS BETTER?”
We’ve been comparing two short stories. The first, “Ghoul,” is by renowned story writer George Saunders, author of the Booker Prize-winning novel Lincoln in The Bardo. (Bardo, not Beardo.) The second, “Just Another Silly Love Song,” was published by us and is by lesser known fictionist Nick Gallup.
Round One analysis of the story was done by William Rushing.
Round Two analysis was done by Michael Maiello.
Information on the Reading Challenge is here.
Our newest review of the two stories is by Tom Ray—
by Tom Ray
“Just Another Silly Love Song” tells the story of the relationship between two individuals, Tyler and Roxie. “Ghoul” tells the story of a world divorced from our own reality, with the relationship between Brian and Amy being just one illustration of the relationship between individuals and society as a whole.
The characters in “Love Song” are realistic. We don’t know if Tyler loved his mother or if Roxie has daddy issues. However, thanks to narrator Tyler’s self-aware reflections as a mature man looking back, we know he was a typical late 20th-century man, obsessed with sex, concerned with proving his masculinity, yet not intimidated by a strong, intelligent woman like Roxie. As a woman of that era, Roxie is not afraid to show her independence, and will not define herself in terms of a male partner. On the other hand, she is attracted to a strong man who proves himself, as Tyler does, to be more than a macho stereotype.
The protagonist in “Ghoul” is also a young man. His reactions to events are how I imagine a young man in such a bizarre world would react, fearful of the consequences of breaking the authoritarian rules. All of the other characters, though, have no depth. They are cartoon characters put there to show how this crazy regime impacts Brian.
A lot of the humor in “Love Song” is self-deprecating, as the narrator recognizes his own foibles as a typical young man who got his life tips from reading Playboy. In “Ghoul” the narrator has no sense of humor, with unintended humor emerging in descriptions of the denizens of the underworld behaving like people working dull jobs in the real world.
Saunders is definitely the master in crafting this story. When Gallup’s story was first published in New Pop Lit I commented that he has a way of drawing the reader in. It was easy to draw me in like that, though, because the characters are realistic.
It was tougher for Saunders. I stuck with the tedious narrator, trying to figure out what the setting was. It seemed like a theme park, but as I read further it became obvious this was more sinister than that.
By the end of “Love Song” I was satisfied. The story is a little more sentimental than I usually care for, but it is light-hearted fun with wit. Toward the end of “Ghoul” I was able to say, “Oh, yeah, this is a metaphor; or is it an allegory, or a simile, or some other such thing that I stopped worrying about half a century ago in college English lit classes? Is it satire on life in the corporate world, or on religion? Who cares?” The corporate world sucks, we all know that, religion is bullshit, we’ve all heard that. “Ghoul” doesn’t say anything new on those subjects in an interesting way, and the tedium I felt in the first few pages returned in the last few. Not my cup of oolong.
Tom Ray is himself an accomplished, widely published short story writer. Among the stories he’s written for us is this one, “Service.”