Ghoul versus Gallup: Round Three

ANOTHER ENTRY IN OUR READING CHALLENGE–

Not George Saunders. Different George. Same beard.

— 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

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A REVIEW

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.

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Tom Ray is himself an accomplished, widely published short story writer. Among the stories he’s written for us is this one, “Service.”

Hyper-Talents of the New Literary Age

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Part I: STORYTELLERS

The foundation of American fiction from its beginning is the ability to tell a story. Ernest Hemingway referred to this ability when he announced that “All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”

 American literature as a unique art form began as an expression of stories told not in refined drawing rooms, but on whaling ships, on riverboats or trains; around prairie campfires or cracker barrel stores. The story– many told orally in regions without books (at best, with cheap pulp journals and dime novels). Certainly, from a time and place without televisions or smartphones.

In his novel The Virginian, Owen Wister celebrated American storytelling via an extended tall tale told by one of his characters. A tale within a tale. Another example is Mark Twain’s celebrated story, “The Celebrated Frog of Calaveras County.”

The main feature of this style of fiction is the narrative thread. The idea: To keep the listener listening. The reader reading.

This ability has extended through the history of American lit. From the Big Fish That Got Away stories of Herman Melville, to popular magazine stories like Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game.” From rugged populists like Jack London, Frank Norris, and Rex Beach, through William Faulkner with his gothic legends of the South; even, perhaps, to present-day page turners.

Through operating this modest but ambitious project, we’ve encountered two men whose work embodies the traditional ability to tell a story, while making that story relevant to what’s happening in the present-day world.

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Our introduction to Scott Cannon‘s art was his long, eerie tale, “Lucid Dreamer,” which combines imagination with the possible, so that it has the feel of an unsettling story told in the woods. Or under a streetlamp at night on an urban streetcorner.

We have, as part of this series, a new story from Scott, with quite a different setting. “Yacht Party” exhibits the writer’s ability to have you see, through sharp description and economy of words, what his characters are experiencing. The best fiction doesn’t distract the reader with unwieldy linguistic fireworks. It puts the reader in the moment. With the plot having something to do with Iran, the story is eerily timely. (Scott sure is a fast writer!)

Check it out!
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Another storytelling talent we’ve published multiple times is Tom Ray.

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As with Scott, Tom’s stories are often quite long. They depend upon hooking the reader at the outset.

Tom Ray’s best setting is Washington D.C., that playground of creepy politicians, oily lobbyists, and the staffers who keep the entire complex bureaucratic machine operating. Could any subject be more topical?!

Our most recent story from Tom, “Benjamin Franklin and the Witch of Endor,” gives us an experienced Insider look. Like Scott, Tom Ray seems to have begun seriously writing after establishing himself in another career, as if he built-up a reservoir of knowledge and stories inside his head waiting to break out.
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Why do we open this series with two storytellers whose style is traditional?

Because American literature’s opportunity to renew itself depends upon a foundation of authentic American writing. A foundation upon which to build. To express American culture, one has to know American reality and American roots– and know writers whose style is an expression, consciously or not, of those roots. A continuation of a storytelling heritage, combined with the American landscape, which made our writers and writing unique.
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NEXT: We look at “Portraitists.” Stay tuned!