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(Pardon the photoshop. I’m not an illustrator.)


Elevated: Similar to our world, with things added in. Mostly plausible.

Whimsical: Fundamentally different from our world. Mostly implausible.

Transcendent: Lines between plausible and impossible are blurred.


The Three Mountain Task is a child psychological experiment developed by Jean Piager and Bärbel Inhelder to study a child’s ability to coordinate spatial perspectives. Encyclopedia defines the task as “a child faced a display of three model mountains while a researcher placed a doll at different viewpoints of the display. The researcher asked the child to reconstruct the display from the doll’s perspective, select from a set of pictures showing the doll’s view, and identify a viewpoint for the doll specified by a picture of the display.”

Much like this, there is no one way to explain or experience the fantastic. Elements such as time, space, reality, crossing dimensions vary from story to story, and so such a graph to explain it should change every time you read something new. In my graph / chart there are two of many perspectives, the ‘body of the fantastic’ is the mountain we are all looking at and determining what to say.







Submission and Longing

It seems important to understand whether or not it is worth it to sacrifice yourself for someone else.

Samantha Hunt’s “Beast” follows the fantasies and guilt the narrator experiences as a result of partaking in an animalistic, one-night affair with a man she met at a bar. It is after this affair happened that the narrator begins to transform into a deer at night, with the final pages revealing that her husband, as well, turns into a deer.

It is hard to understand what Hunt is attempting to reveal here, and, as you have pointed out to me, sometimes there doesn’t have to be a point. When I first read this back at the beginning of the semester, I was afraid to write a post offering little to no explanation of what is happening. Re-reading it again a few months later (eek!), I feel like I might have more insight to offer than before.

At the beginning of this story, the narrator is reading an article in the newspaper about a brother supporting his sister by sending her to college on his dime.

On page eighteen of the National Report there’s an article, “Good Guy Gets the Chicks.” It’s the story of a brother who works at a chicken rendering plant by day and at a security firm by night in order to send his sister to college. He sells his plasma to make ends meet.

When I first read this, I thought this was sweet to include but didn’t offer much substance, other than a glimpse into the narrator’s nighttime routine. The narrator recounts a couple of pages later a disturbing story about her neighbor Pete caring for a baby deer, keeping her as a pet.

When we were young, there was a man named Pete who lived around here. Pete kept a wild deer as a pet. Everyone said that Pete had done things with the deer, though I don’t see how they could know that. It was a small town. Rumors spread. Soon people started saying even more. They said that Pete had done things with his own daughter also, and there might have been some truth to that. She had been taken away by the state. People didn’t know why but they guessed why. The spookiest part of the whole story, and the reason people suspected him, is because Pete named the deer after his daughter, Jennifer. He’d call the deer, “JENNIFER. JENNIFER.” You could hear him at night. “JENNIFER. JENNIFER.” Slowly. And the deer would come when called, as if it were a dog and not a wild creature. She’d come to him.

Once again, I didn’t understand the correlation between the metamorphosis the narrator experiences, and so, I moved on.

The final encounter we read about is when Enrich (the man who the narrator had the affair with) called her, detailing the explicit things he wanted to do to her.

Erich called me at work yesterday to tell me what he wanted to do to me. He said he wanted to see me. He said he wanted to eat my roast beef pussy. One thing very general, one thing very specific. It made it difficult for me to breathe hearing those very specific words. No one had ever said that combination of things to me before. I was shocked by how powerful those words were. I started to think that maybe he actually wanted to kill me. Thus, the reference to beef. Thus, I’d fuck you to death.

For me, “Beast” is about how women are used for male pleasure, thus using the metamorphosis of a deer; feminine, gentle and innocent, to convey this wild freedom the narrator yearns for.



downloadWhen I first starting reading this piece, I quickly grew agitated. Why? The sentence structure was all over the place. It honestly made me want to red ink the entire thing. However, when I delved deeper into his words a fondness for his character quickly subsided the agitation. I will be honest, it was hard for me to understand what was going on in the story until I was almost done with it. I believe this story was more of a satirical attack on class systems today with the use of dystopian ideologies and scenarios created throughout the story.

The narrator starts writing into a journal, he received on his 40th birthday, with the desire to record the present for future generations to read and understand the feelings, emotions, happenings of his time. Throughout the piece, he makes little notes for himself to remember in the future. His obsession with the future is hard to explain. He is a complex character, caught up in the notion of recording the past but focuses on the future without losing sight of the present as well. Which, in itself, is contradictory and a – rather – crazy notion, if not confusing. How can one obsess about the future but still focus on the present? (Or rather the past, in which he is documenting the daily events in his journal?) This story was hard to digest, let alone try to comprehend the message behind it. There was a lot going on throughout the story. His character, in itself, is amazing. I grew to love him as a person. The doting love and care he wrote about having for his children and wife were so sweet and caring.

One of the interesting aspects of this story that I noticed was George Saunders’s attention to the social and economic classes. This story, following the narrator and his daily life, is littered with financial struggles of a working man. He tells stories of his father, another hard working man that went through a divorce and also had major financial issues. The narrator then describes the types of people in the world, describing the life he would like to live in a daydream-like fashion. He captures the essence of a dystopian society. Although, it seems as only his world is falling apart. Maybe not falling, per se, but more-so things not going the way he wants them to go. He tells of his “rich” father-in-law that is very strict and traditional; when they reached out to him for financial help, he condemned them for being “wasteful” with their money and refused to help them. He later tells of “Farmer Rich’s” speech at a family gathering that condemned the use of “Semplica Girls,” bashing anyone (older generation or younger generation) who uses them as a sign of wealth or simply a decoration. “Farmer Rich” represents the hard-working, manual labor workers that have earned their riches and somehow still remain bitter. I came to the conclusion of class systems as one of the story’s aspects of a dystopia due to the character of Jerry. Jerry is one of the detectives that is assigned their case of the missing “SG’s.” He first ploys his idea that big corporations are the real enemy.

Says he knows we are behind eight-ball in terms of money, feels shysters at Greenway deserve to be boiled in oil. Is man of limited means himself, he says, is family man, knows how upset he would be if he owed big faceless corporation &8600. Will not rest until activists found. Has low regard for activists. Activists think they are doing a noble thing? Are not. SG’s become illegal immigrants, take jobs away from “legit Americans.” Jerry very much against. (162)

Jerry represents the obvious target and influence of his character, racist people.

Jerry a talker. Before he became cop, was teacher. Is so glad to not be teaching anymore. His students brats. Brattier every year. For last few years, was just biding his time, waiting to be knifed or shot by some brat. Things got worse as kids got darker. If I know what he means. Has nothing against dark people but does have something against dark people who refuse to work and learn language and insist on pulling mean pranks on teachers. (163)

The obvious fantastic elements of this story are the “Semplica Girls.” They describe the women who leave their past lives to have a chip inserted in their temples to stand decoration in “rich” people’s gardens or yards.  The narrator tries to justify the use of “SG’s” to his daughter, Eva, who is weary about their use as a decoration and described as “sensitive” by the narrator. As an eight-year-old, I was very impressed by her complex mind and thoughts, as well as her awareness of what is morally right and wrong as she questions her father about the use of the “SG’s” in their yard (eventually releasing them.)

Point is, I said, everything relative. SG’s have lived very different lives from us. Their lives brutal, harsh, unpromising. What looks scary/unpleasant to us may not be so scary/unpleasant to them, i.e., they have seen worse. (143)

As I may have mentioned above, Eva = sensitive. This good, Pam and I feel: this = sign of intelligence. But Eva seems to have somehow gotten idea that sensitivity = effective way to get attention, i.e., has developed tendency to set herself apart from others, possibly a way of distinguishing self, i.e., casting self as better, more refined than others? Has, in past, refused to eat meat, sit on leather seats, use plastic forks made in China. Is endearing enough when little kid does. But Eva getting older now, this tendency to object on principle starting to feel a bit precious + becoming fundamental to how she views herself? (140)

Eva: So just because everyone is doing it, that makes it right. (141)


“Eisenheim the Illusionist” although it comes off an objection nonfiction, but has hints of the playful and fantastic. I see this in small details such as the fact that he is a mysterious magician. It is also interesting to point out that this sort of fantastic element of illusion happening to a magician-type character which are typically known to be the masters of illusion is a nice touch. We also have this lovely parallel of these illusions being reflections and in the end we have this reveal that it in itself is an illusion to others and partly to himself of a reflection of different parts of himself.

We also then have how Millhauser has trickled in parts of illusion throughout his stories, in “The Disappearance of Elaine Coleman,”was in part the illusion of a real person, someone that had been so thoroughly overlooked that she had to disappear. And then we have “Dangerous Laughter,” were we see what could be the illusion of happiness, but rather an addicting and deadly game. So really the theme or idea of illusion extends far beyond “Eisenheim the Illusionist.”

“Eight Bites”

Being a collection which examines, through the lens of the fantastic, a myriad of issues which plague women today, Her Body and Other Parties would be incomplete without a story discussing body image and disordered eating. What was interesting to me was the choice made to approach this issue with a protagonist being an older woman, as eating disorders tend to be thought of as a “teenage girl problem.” However, according to ANAD, 13% of women over 50 struggle with eating disorders, and I’m glad Machado chose to explore this underrepresented issue.

The most intriguing relationship in the story is not to the protagonist and the bit of herself she wanted gone, so much as that of the protagonist and her daughter, Cal. We don’t see Cal much through the story, and when we do, it’s only through phone calls. She has a “roommate” she refuses to admit is a partner, she doesn’t perform “daughterly duties,” and she doesn’t have any empathy for her mother’s decision. The decision to get an unnecessary surgery in an attempt to be thin is one suggestive of a warped body image, but instead of trying to help her mother, Cal simply gets upset and lectures. The narrator tells us she’s never understood Cal’s needs, so we can assume the relationship has always been tense. Maybe our narrator did something in the past to warrant Cal’s treatment of her.

In the end, the narrator’s body comes back for her, taking care of her on her deathbed the way that most people hope their children will. Her unwanted mass could be viewed as a foil to Cal; Cal wasn’t outright rejected (that we know of), but the body was, and only the body came back for her in the end.

As always, Millhauser toyed with genre in writing “In the Reign of Harad IV.” It finds itself in the category of “Impossible Architecture,” as opposed to “Heretical Histories,” despite my (and others’) initial assumption that it had taken place in the far past. I had assumed this because of its references to a king who lived in a palace and a master craftsman whose entire duty was to make art for the king. Does this have to imply the past, though? There are still kings, and kingdoms, and presumably master crafters within them. A contributing factor to the impression of taking place is not just the setting, but the style; Millhauser clearly evokes a fairy tale.

Here’s a the opening line of the story, with five words changed:

Once upon a time, there lived at court a maker of miniatures, who was celebrated for the uncanny perfection of his work.

The original opening words are “In the reign of Harad IV.” If you, like me, assumed based on kings and courts that this work took place in the distant past, it might as well be “Once upon a time, in a faraway land.” This voice continues throughout the story, with an omniscient, uncaring narrator, who has access to all of the characters’ thoughts without much dialogue.

The story’s ending is also an allusion to a classic fairy tale, “The Emperor’s New Clothes.” In that story, clever tailors convince the fashionista king that his new suit is only visible to those who aren’t foolish or who are well-suited to their position. The twist, of course, is that there are no new clothes, and everyone was playing along to keep from looking stupid. The Master’s apprentices do something similar, but this story brings a new element to the tale: there is something there, and the Master isn’t intentionally trying to fool anyone. In fact, he’s disappointed no one understands his work. (Once again, someone needs to check on our friend Steven.)

All of these factors combined, “In the Reign of Harad IV” is possibly the closest we can get in adult literature to a fairy tale.

When I was reading this story, I was interested in how the fantastic corresponded with the fashion designer creating clothes. I couldn’t find anything that was actually impossible, though there were several things unlikely to happen. The story was strange, in true Millhauser fashion. One of the things that was strange was the overall fashion that the designer, Hyperion, was making for women. These dresses and ideas he had were not normal, considering women had been dressing without much coverage for so long. However, even though these ideas were not normal, I thought it really showed an example of how the fashion industry is in real life. Most of the things we see on TV or in magazines are not anything anyone would actually wear because they are so ridiculous in appearance. Something that struck me as interesting was that these women actually took these fashion ‘trends’ seriously enough to really wear them, going so far as to cover their faces and necks. It does say, however, that in a particular instance that some of this designer’s clothing was made fun of.

“In a celebrated autumn catwalk show, he shocked viewers by bringing back a version of the Victorian crinoline, with its hoops of flexible steel, and raising it to the level of the shoulders. Although the hemi-dress was ridiculed by a number of fashion commentators for its awkwardness, its ugliness, it retro-kitsch jokiness, its air of mockery, others saw it as an expression of liberation from the tyranny of the body.”

The thing that really caught my attention was the similarity to religious clothing trends. It reminded me a lot of how religion often desires to cover the body modestly and keep it concealed until marriage. It says in the story that some considered the strange fashion to be “liberation from tyranny” so I saw the similarities.


Through “The Semplica Girl Diaries,” Saunders examines the American middle class’s anxieties about social mobility and status. His story spotlights an all too real social group that lives in fear of falling victim to an ever-widening wealth gap. The rereader has to consider our own biases and prejudices through carefully constructed narrative empathy and satiric elements. We’ve all been nervous to share our social status and what bracket we fall under, but in this short story, We share a similarity to the struggling American families. We live in a society that loves labels. There is something comforting and relatable to how Saunders creates imagery for the father and his actions. As we feed our social anxieties the narrator openly admits that he longs for his own wealth, how wouldn’t, and that is wealth would afford him the ability to live a more fulfilling life. Money has so much power over people and their priorities. If I have learned anything from this isolation during COVID-19, is that I want to work, I am a working body and though this time with people around me is cool’ in all, I know that I am meant to help contribute in more ways than I am doing now. After reading this I thought hard about what I am privileged with and how that it takes isolation to make that clear for folks. I think that is the Fantastic part of this story.

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Now you see me…

In “Eisenheim the Illusionist” you are led to believe that you should follow the rule of the show and don’t tell, this is, however, a magician’s world. Millhauser has chosen his time frame with care: he tells us in the very first sentence that “[i]n the last years of the nineteenth century, when the Empire of the Habsburgs was nearing the end of its long dissolution, the art of magic flourished as never before”. In the story  we are shown the true colors of each character without any kind of mystery. At this time, the art of magic thrived and as a musician, Eiseheim performs magic like it has never been seen before. Magic is a Fantastic occurrence within this plot. Eisenheim’s magic isn’t instrumental here, as it is in Burger’s film; if anything, it is magic for music’s sake (kind of like Art for Art’s sake) That is, the most disturbing element of Eisenheim’s performance, contra Uhl, is how it was purely a performance.  It’s very difficult to find anyone in the story, however, who is willing to believe such a thing when it’s all just an illusion?


“Change in Fashion”’s imagery reminds me of The Handmaid’s Tale; color-coordinated by social class, the female body is hidden by long sleeves and “wings” to hide their faces when out of the house. This short story went on to tell us how the female body slipped deeper into the shadows yet became increasingly more provocative. The quest to reach the female nude grew within men’s thoughts and to a point where some thoughts were dangerous and violent. The Male Gaze is an interesting concept where women are sexualized within fine art. As an aspiring Art Historian, I can say that from my years as a student we have dissected the male Gaze and its effects on the women portrayed in paintings. When you remove the “temptation” of sexual arousal from the female form, it’s hard to say what that looks like. Some would say that masking women’s bodies is a sign of oppression yet in this short story, its fashion. The take away quote from this story is as follows: “Women have never been more naked than concealed from view”. This is what is Fantastic about this tale.

The eighth and final installation of Carmen Machado‘s Her Body and Other Parties, “Difficult at Parties,” follows the protagonist recovering from the trauma of sexual assault, as she tires to re-discover and invent a new sexual norm after her rape.


I’ll admit this was a difficult read, as Machado’s collection of stories “use fiction to explore and examine questions about women’s lives…[with] sex, gender and…mental health;” with this account in particular focusing on the re-establishment of trust in a loving relationship.


The paranoia we experience with the narrator is the beginning to a deeper question; how can women amend and recover from the tragedies of their past, when societal ideals paint women as pinnacle of sexual objectification?  Even here, while the narrator’s lover is delineated as patient and gentle, there is still an absence understanding. We see that Paul’s desire for her starts to turn into contempt defeat.

In the bedroom, Paul sits across from me, his fingers tapping idly on the denim of his pants.
Do you remember, he says, what it was like before?

I look down at my legs, then up at the blank wall, then back to him. I do not even struggle to speak; the spark of words dies so deep in my chest there is not even space to mount them on an exhale.
You wanted, he says. You wanted and wanted. You were like this endless thing. A well that never emptied.”

For me, the emphasis of the narrator’s experience isn’t on the regaining of sexual self, but the acceptance and hope developed, “ending on a note of openness [and] potential renewal.”

Two people stumble in, my finger lifts, the rush-to-now slows. Two strangers fumble with each other’s clothes, each other’s bodies. His body, slender and tall and pale, leans; his pants hit the floor with a thunk, the pockets full of keys and change. Her body—my body, mine—is still striped with the yellowish stains of fading bruises. It is a body overflowing out of itself; it unwinds from too many layers. The shirt looks bulky in my hand, and I release it onto the floor. It drops like a shot bird. We are pressing into the side of the mattress.

I look down at my hands. They are dry and not shaking. I look back up at the screen, and I begin to listen.


I do not hate the rich. I aspire to be rich

The Semplica Girl Diaries is about a father who strives to give his children all that he can, with the emphasis of finances being access to this success. The male narrator, who never gives a name, describes their financial situation as middle class. It isn’t soon after he starts writing in his journal that he wins ten thousand dollars, spending all of his winnings on frivolous expenses, in which we are introduced to the SGs, a representation of the pinnacle of wealth.

We learn as time passes that this arrangement is considered manificence for those who are chosen as SGs, as these girls come from third world countries where their “opportunities are not so good.” No one questions this exhibit of wealth, except for Eva, thenarrator’s youngest daughter, who questions, “just because [others are] doing it, [does] that makes it right[?]Screen Shot 2020-04-10 at 4.42.04 AM

When Eva releases the SGs, we see the burden the narrator faces; he is the provider of the household. With this burden, he comes to realize that he might not be so different from the SGs, with both sharing an aspiration and desire for a better life for their families and themselves.


SGs very much on my mind tonight, future reader

Where are they now? Why did they leave?

Just do not get.

Letter comes, family celebrates, girl sheds tears, stoically packs bag, thinks, Must go, am family’s only hope. Puts on brave face, promises she will return as soon as contract complete. Her mother feels, father feels: We cannot let her go. But they do. They must.

Whole town walks girl to train station/bus station/ferry stop? More tears, more vows. As train/bus/ferry pulls away, she takes last fond look at surrounding hills/river/quarry/shacks, whatever, i.e., all she has ever known of world, saying to self, Be not afraid, you will return, + return in victory, w/ big bag of gifts, etc., etc.


Given that we have just read one of George Saunders’s stories, I thought you might appreciate the letter he recently sent to his students. It was reprinted in this week’s New Yorker:

A Letter to My Students as We Face the Pandemic
April 3, 2020
By George Saunders

Jeez, what a hard and depressing and scary time. So much suffering and anxiety everywhere. (I saw this bee happily buzzing around a “flower yesterday and felt like, Moron! If you only knew!) But it also occurs to me that this is when the world needs our eyes and ears and minds. This has never happened before here (at least not since 1918). We are (and especially you are) the generation that is going to have to help us make sense of this and recover afterward. What new forms might you invent, to fictionalize an event like this, where all of the drama is happening in private, essentially? Are you keeping records of the e-mails and texts you’re getting, the thoughts you’re having, the way your hearts and minds are reacting to this strange new way of living? It’s all important. Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened (or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us something about some crazy thing that happened in 1970.) What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this, and what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep.

Also, I think, with how open you can keep your heart. I’m trying to practice feeling something like, “Ah, so this is happening now,” or “Hmm, so this, too, is part of life on Earth. Did not know that, universe. Thanks so much, stinker.”

And then I real quick try to pretend that I didn’t just call the universe a “stinker.”

I did a piece once where I went to live incognito in a homeless camp in Fresno for a week. Very intense, but the best thing I heard in there was from this older guy from Guatemala, who was always saying, “Everything is always keep changing.” Truer words were never spoken. It’s only when we expect solidity—non-change—that we get taken by surprise. (And we always expect solidity, no matter how well we know better.)

Well, this is all sounding a little preachy, and let me confess that I’m not taking my own advice. At all. It’s all happening so fast. Paula has what we are hoping is just a bad cold, and I am doing a lot of inept caregiving. Our dogs can feel that something weird is going on. (“No walk? AGAIN?!”) But I guess what I’m trying to say is that the world is like a sleeping tiger and we tend to live our lives there on its back. (We’re much smaller than the tiger, obviously. We’re like Barbies and Kens on the back of a tiger.) And now and then that tiger wakes up. And that is terrifying. Sometimes it wakes up and someone we love dies. Or someone breaks our heart. Or there’s a pandemic. But this is far from the first time that tiger has come awake. He/she has been doing it since the beginning of time and will never stop doing it. And always there have been writers to observe it and (later) make some sort of sense of it, or at least bear witness to it. It’s good for the world for a writer to bear witness, and it’s good for the writer, too. Especially if she can bear witness with love and humor and, despite it all, some fondness for the world, just as it is manifesting, warts and all.

All of this is to say: there’s still work to be done, and now more than ever.

There’s a beautiful story about the Russian poet Anna Akhmatova. Her son was arrested during the Stalinist purges. One day, she was standing outside the prison with hundreds of other women in similar situations. It’s Russian-cold and they have to go there every day, wait for hours in this big open yard, then get the answer that, today and every day, there will be no news. But every day they keep coming back. A woman, recognizing her as the famous poet, says, “Poet, can you write this?” And Akhmatova thinks about it a second and goes: “Yes.”

I wish you all the best during this crazy period. Someday soon, things will be back to some sort of normal, and it will be easier to be happy again. I believe this and I hope it for each one of you. I look forward to seeing you all again and working with you. And even, in time, with sufficient P.P.E., giving you a handshake or hug. Please feel free to e-mail anytime, for any reason.


Author’s note: I wrote this letter quickly and sent it out. Later I was able to find the actual Akhmatova quote, from her poem “Requiem”:

In the terrible years of the Yezhov terror I spent seventeen months waiting in line outside the prison in Leningrad. One day somebody in the crowd identified me. Standing behind me was a woman, with lips blue from the cold, who had, of course, never heard me called by name The New Yorker’s coronavirus news coverage and analysis are free for all readers. a woman, with lips blue from the cold, who had, of course, never heard me called by name before. Now she started out of the torpor common to us all and asked me in a whisper (everyone whispered there):

“Can you describe this?”

And I said: “I can.”

Then something like a smile passed fleetingly over what had once been her face.

That last line is, maybe, the real point of the anecdote—Akhmatova’s confidence gave this unknown and tormented woman some measure of comfort.

As we scrolled (or flipped) through the pages of “The Semplica Girl Diaries” by George Saunders, not much was revealed to us about the SG’s until closer towards the end. Was this on purpose? For one thing, after we learn the true nature of the SG’s and being bound together by a string through the brain, we can’t help but agree that it’s a horrible fate. But what of the narrator? He obviously endorsed this as he has the SG’s come and work for him. He must agree, to some extent, with this practice. I believe that if we knew everything about the SG’s right off the bat, it wouldn’t be harder for us to sympathize with our narrator “Dad.” Our utter disagreement with that practice would have us questioning why this man would ever allow something like that to take place in his own home. But because we are slowly figuring our their true nature with the narrator, it can help us empathize with him later in the story.

Something else I’m sure multiple people across the world have realized while reading this is how much the SG’s remind them of immigrant labor. Back in 2012, when this story was first published, immigration labor was still a huge topic off debate. Everyone was arguing about whether or not they should be paid equal wage as non-immigrants or if they should even work at all. This story conquers that idea and more. It delves into the idea of how ignorant people can be towards immigrant workers and how hard it must to live their lives. They’re all seen as the same thing, hence the SG’s connected by a string.  They leave their homes to be put on public display by a wealthy family and no one thinks twice.

Many times throughout the story the narrator mentions he feels like he is writing for another generation. He expresses that he wants his writing to be used to show what daily life is like during this time period. At the beginning he jokes about the readers not knowing about basic things like windows, cats or demons and jokes that the reader should get an encyclopedia.  At first I read this with an “Ok Boomer” attitude and prepared to read a story I felt was going to be a fantastic version of Death of a Salesman (Middle aged man with desperate desire for wealth and social approval). However I soon realized this intro was a preparation for how we were supposed to read the story. In the end, we become that generation far down the line. Reading about this period with disgust and curiosity because we have genuinely no idea what an SG girl is, something so common to him he didn’t bother to explain what it was, like cats, windows or demons. Even the title furthers our belief that this is used as historical documentation. “Semplica Girl Diaries” places focus on something that is taken for granted in the story. That makes it feel if this was published with the express purpose  of exploring this phenomenon, like titled that by a historical society.  The author holds our attention by making us scour the text for more evidence and explanation of what is actually occurring. We are scouting out the unnatural and that’s what makes this story so riveting. Personally, I went back many times to read previous passages when I got more of an idea of what they were actually describing, making things I had kinda glossed over seem terrifying  at second glance.  This made the fist half of the story, I’ll admit, a little difficult to read because I felt as if I was missing something giant. However that makes the discovery and understanding of that giant thing even more rewarding and pleasing to read.

What interested me most about “The Semplica Girl Diaries” was the narrator. I was drawn to him from the beginning. He wrote in his diary in a short, blunt way. On the title page he wrote, “Having just turned 40 have resolved to embark on grand project of writing every day in this new black book just got at OfficeMax.” Back home, my coworkers were all immigrants and this was exactly how they both spoke and wrote. Because of this, I operated under the assumption that the narrator was also an immigrant. This shed a different, but unsurprising, light on the rest of the story. The narrator worked at what most would consider a menial job, but he wasn’t doing the bone-breaking, laborious work that is done by certain groups of immigrants. However, he was still poor and shared many of the same aspirations that immigrants have of life in America. Which led me to ask myself a question: Why did he have such an impersonal, distant view of the SG’s?

The first two times they were mentioned, I missed it. On page 115 he wrote,

“In front of the house, on sweeping lawn, largest SG arrangement ever seen, all in white, white smocks blowing in breeze…”

The second time they were mentioned was on page 117:

“Pulled up to house. Another silence as we regarded blank empty yard. That is, mostly crabgrass and no red Oriental bridge w/ ancient hoofprints and no outbuildings and not a single SG, but only Ferber, who we’d kind of forgotten about, and who, as usual, had circled round and round the tree…”

I assumed they would have been spoken about in greater detail in the same manner as he described everything else, but I had to go back to the beginning and read the first few pages again. Why did he take such an impersonal view on the SG’s? Surely he would have understood their reasons? Surely he would have sympathized, even empathized with them? But no, he doesn’t understand why they weren’t happy, why they would leave, and why Eva freed them from the racks.

He doesn’t go into detail with the SG’s until the very end on page 167. As he wrote,

“Letters come, family celebrates, girl shed tears, stoically packed bags, thinks: must go, am family’s only hope. Puts on brave face, promises she will return as soon as contract complete. Her mother feels, father feels: we cannot let her go. But they do. They must. Whole town walks girl to train station/bus station/ferry stop? Group rides in brightly colored van to tiny regional airport? More tears, more vows. As train/ferry/plane pulls away, she takes last fond look at surrounding hills/river/quarry/shacks, whatever, i.e., all she has ever known of world, saying to self: be not afraid, you will return, & return in victory, w/ big bag of gifts, etc, etc. And now? No money, no papers. Who will remove microline? Who will give her job? When going for job, must fix hair so as to hide scars at Insertion Points. When will she ever see home + family again? Why would she do? Why would she ruin it all, leave our yard? Could have had nice long run w/ us. What in the world was she seeking? What could she want so much, that would make her pull such desperate stunt?”

The way he wrote it, the details he went into, the thoughts he put on the paper, all led me to conclude that he had been denying his personal connection to them. He knew exactly why they did what they did and what they longed for because he felt and did the same thing. He had to keep such a distance from the SG’s because otherwise he would have to face the truth of the society in which he lived and his desire to be part of it.

When the bumper fell off the family car, I thought the family in the story were lower middle class: Just enough money to be embarrassed by ragged clothes, but not enough to do anything about it. The thing is, I’m sure they view themselves that way, or at least our narrator does. He ignores his children and wife’s apparently extensive wardrobes (137) and expensive house (we learn on 158 that the mortgage, utilities, and life insurance add up to $2,200, which would put their monthly house payment at nearly $2,000, barring an abnormally high life insurance premium or natural gas consumption. I’m realizing as I type this that could be perfectly normal and my rural upbringing might skew the numbers way, way down.). The fact that his daughter is comfortable even asking for something that costs $380, and in fact asking for it twice, shows that they must be doing something right.

Instead, he chooses to focus on all the things they don’t have. That doesn’t stop him from trying: Like a classic American family, they use credit cards to keep up with their (seemingly) wealthier neighbors. When the narrator first wins his scratchoff, Pam suggests using the money to “partially” pay off their credit card debt (130). We later learn their Visa bill is $880 monthly (158), and I’m assuming from the rest of their financial situation that they make the minimum payments.

I’ll admit I spoiled the story for myself. When the narrator kept making vague comments about “SGs” and how much they upset Eva, I was worried it was something I was supposed to know about but didn’t, due to my background, so I googled it like a responsible student. The definition I found came from a review of the story, which was a relief. It said Semplica Girls are a “status symbol” above all else. The thought of this was, at first, incredibly upsetting. My discomfort increased exponentially with the narrator’s constant justifications for and lack of engagement with the girls strung up in his yard. Then I wondered: How am I any different from this family? I’d never be able to afford a Semplica girl, but I’m in a high enough social position, by virtue of being born in America, to constantly be stepping on someone’s bones. (Sweatshop labor’s place in mass production in particular comes to mind.)

I spent fifteen months between high school and college working in a food production company. We made sour cream, gelatin, pudding, various party dips, you name it. Sometimes in grocery stores, I’ll go to the refrigerated section and be able to immediately point out five, ten, fifteen products my factory was responsible for. I remember during my time there seeing little sour cream packets specially branded for Wendy’s or HelloFresh. I liked being able to look at things and say “I helped make this.” There was danger lurking in every corner. Right before I got there, a man nearly lost his hand but was lucky to only lose a fingertip when he took a shortcut adjusting a piece of machinery. A lot of the floor workers told me about the back problems they were developing from stacking crates and crates of product every day. Jessica, a friend I had made who was in her 30s, told me I shouldn’t go to school for something I care about but instead for something marketable, because she was an English major and was still trying to pay off that debt. Semplica girls may be fantastic, but they’re not without precedent.


In the story, the narrator does not use a lot of clear language. There is an uneducated air around the sound of the writing, though it is possible that he could be writing as much as possible in the 20 minutes he sets aside for writing a day.

“Damn it. Plan will not work. Cannot get check to Discover on time. Needs time to clear.”

He is, however, good at documenting what he is experiencing in his life. He frequently talks about his children and his job and maintains a curiosity about the ‘SG’. It is also interesting  to read when the narrator does not use quotation marks. This makes George Sanders’ writing much more engaging.

Not Rich, Pam said. Richer, I said. Richer, Pam said. Damn.

Overall, I think the lack of quotation marks could make the reader a little confused at times. It makes the reader have to slow down in order to accurately interpret what the characters are trying to say. I frequently found myself rereading lines in order to understand what was happening in the story. The language in the story left little to be imagined, however. Even though the writing was not ‘proper’ in a sense, it was still descriptive enough to get the point across. The people in the story were seen through this narrator’s eyes, who is an interesting person to begin with. The language and characters really create a fascinating story regarding this man’s life. When I started reading this, I was bored for the first paragraph or so and I was even aggravated at the style of it. Once I got into it, however, the story really came to life for me.

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