GEORGE SAUNDERS VERSUS NICK GALLUP ROUND TWO
ANOTHER writer-reader has generously weighed in with a comparison of the two short stories available for analysis as part of our current Reading Challenge. Michael Maiello graces us with his perspective, in a short essay titled–
Ghouls and Fools for Love
by Michael Maiello
When George Saunders hits The New Yorker, I PDF the stories and keep them in a desktop folder marked “literature.” I’m a fan, the same way I’ve been a fan of David Foster Wallace, Kurt Vonnegut and so many others who have that slightly “off” worldview. A Saunders story, for me, is a little event.
Every new Saunders story benefits from context. He writes frequently about people trapped in a warped capitalism — killing and dying and lying in the service of awful jobs and guided by Byzantine rules. In Ghoul, co-workers compete to rat each other out for procedural violations and when one person’s guilt is established, their fellow employees kick them to death. The system is so warped that you can turn somebody in for their failure to turn you in for your own crimes. Ghoul presents us with a heightened reality that will seem familiar to any American worker, particularly those of us who have dealt with duplicitous employers. Ghoul recalls other Sanders stories, particularly from CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia. Soon, Saunders will release a book of essays about Russian short stories and I wonder if it will be Gogol who most interests him, or if he will surprise me with a fascination for a more naturalist Checkhov.
Ghoul is, for all its social commentary, a love story, perhaps in a dysfunctional vein of 1984. Just Another Silly Love Song by Nick Gallup is also a love story, set in a more recognizable society. With quick pace and heightened detail, Gallup brings us along for the rollicky ride of Tyler’s maturation. It’s not that he falls in love, though he does, it’s that falling in love remains a mystery to him even as we, accompanying him on the journey, get to see how Tyler achieves this by growing into a full person, able to think beyond his needs.
Whereas Saunders gives us oppressed losers who cannot overcome their circumstances, Gallup gives us hard-working people who can overcome themselves. The stories are so patently different in aim that I’ll punt on the question as to which is “better.”
In laying down its challenge for readers to review these two stories against each other, New Pop’s editors say they hold Gallup with the same esteem accorded to the widely celebrated Saunders. Cheers to that. We all know the artists who command the most attention are not necessarily the “best,” given the roles of luck and circumstance behind society’s discovery of any creative person. Those of us who think about these things, though we’re often counseled to try not to, can’t help but imagine that even so widely regarded a figure as Arthur Miller wrote “attention must be paid,” about himself as much as he wrote it for poor Willy Loman.
I salute New Pop Lit for asking the question, as it motivated me to read Gallup and I’m glad I did. I will even PDF his story and save it in that folder marked “literature,” right next to the Saunders.
Thanks much to Michael Maiello for his review– and to William Rushing for the prior review.
NOW— is anyone else ready to step into the ring and take the George Saunders versus Nick Gallup Reading Challenge? If so, let us know!