Thursday, September 27, 2012


"Sea Oak," by George Saunders

You can read all of George Saunders' most horrible (um, possible trigger warning for many things?), funny, awful, incredible short story, "Sea Oak" here. It is certainly the finest story ever written about male strippers living in a dystopian United States, coping with a reanimated, disintegrating dead aunt. To make this particular writing style work, you have to do it perfectly, which he does, but most people don't, and then you go ughhhhhhh. If you like it, maybe you could purchase Pastoralia, and then he will write more stories for all of us?

In the meantime, what's your favourite part? This part?

Aunt Bernie's a peacemaker. She doesn't like trouble. Once this guy backed over her foot at FoodKing and she walked home with ten broken bones. She never got married, because Grandpa needed her to keep house after Grandma died. Then he died and left all his money to a woman none of us had ever heard of, and Aunt Bernie started in at DrugTown. But she's not bitter. Sometimes she's so nonbitter it gets on my nerves. When I say Sea Oak's a pit she says she's just glad to have a roof over her head. When I say I'm tired of being broke she says Grandpa once gave her pencils for Christmas and she was so thrilled she sat around sketching horses all day on the backs of used envelopes. Once I asked was she sorry she never had kids and she said no, not at all, and besides, weren't we were her kids?

And I said yes we were.
But of course we're not.

For dinner it's beanie-wienies. For dessert it's ice cream with freezer burn.

"What a nice day we've had," Aunt Bernie says once we've got the babies in bed.
"Man, what an optometrist," says Jade.

22 Comments / Post A Comment


Best homework assignment I have ever received, from Kelly Link in a grad school seminar, was: read Sea Oak and also some of the first ever documented historical references to vampires, and write a short story about a revenant of your choosing. (SUCK IT, MFA haters!) But Commcomm is my favorite Saunders. It will probably make you cry. If you need that, it is here: http://www.newyorker.com/archive/2005/08/01/050801fi_fiction


@PomoFrannyGlass OMG. Where did you go to grad school, Heaven University?


I'm excited he has a new book coming -- it's called The Tenth of December, but it goes on sale January 8.



@veryanonymous Well now that's on my calendar.


In Persuasion Nation blew up my brain when I first read it. Sea Oak is one of the only stories from its collection I like, but I liked it alot! SO happy to hear that a new book is coming out.


Ahhh what, I read this story instead of doing work like I'm supposed to be doing, and...it was so good.

Lisa Frank

@yeah-elle Yes! This was so grotesque and sad, and I just sat at my desk reading it with my mouth open. I felt so gross, until I got to the end, and then I just wanted to hug everyone.


Nope, my favorite part is the following, which, when I first read this in a fiction workshop, somebody pointed out as why they DIDN'T like Saunders's writing, which I do not understand at all:

"Let me tell you something," says Freddie. "Something about this country. Anybody can do anything. But first they gotta try. And you guys ain't. Two don't work and one strips naked? I don't consider that trying. You kids make squat. And therefore you live in a dangerous craphole. And what happens in a dangerous craphole? Bad tragic shit. It's the freaking American way-you start out in a dangerous craphole and work hard so you can someday move up to a somewhat less dangerous craphole. And finally maybe you get a mansion. But at this rate you ain't even gonna make it to the somewhat less dangerous craphole."
"Like you live in a mansion," says Jade.
"I do not claim to live in no mansion," says Freddie. "But then again I do not live in no slum. The other thing I also do not do is strip naked."
"Thank God for small favors," says Min.
"Anyways he's never actually naked," says Jade.
Which is true. I always have on at least a T-back.
"No wonder we never take these kids out to a nice lunch," says Freddie.
"I do not even consider this a nice lunch," says Min.

Also -- I let a terrible ex-boyfriend borrow Pastoralia, and he basically refused to give it back for months. Ugh, he was the worst.


"Sea Oak" is great, there are so many great Saunders stories so it's tough to have a favorite, but my favorite is probably "Jon"



@pizza YES. "It's Yours to Do With What You Like!"

Lush Life

I get George Saunders mixed up with George Sanders. So every word on a Saunders' page sounds like Jack Favell.


Wow - he wrote "The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil" which I vaguely remember finding interesting, but not loving. I absolutely loved this short story however so I'll pick up Pastoralia.


I had a recording of Saunders reading this story aloud on my mp3 player (can't remember from where, unfortunately) and one evening I started listening to it while going on a short walk around my neighbourhood. I stayed walking til the very end of the reading, cause it was so grotesque and funny and odd. I'll see if I can dredge up a link to it, cause listening to him read was a wonderful way to experience the story!


I don't think "Puppy" is my favorite George Saunders story, but slays me each time I read it: http://www.newyorker.com/fiction/features/2007/05/28/070528fi_fiction_saunders

Olive Banana

"The Wavemaker Falters"! I can't find it online, but it is the best.


He came to the 30th anniversary of Northwestern's writing program, and I got to shake his hand! Also he read us a story (which title I cannot remember) that was forthcoming in the New Yorker, and he does the voices! The voices are how he writes! He does the voices before he even knows where the story is going!

AAAAAAAAALLSO he looks like a muppet.

(note, I read this story in my first fiction workshop, I believe, and we were meant to be writing realism, and I just couldn't. So I did a really crap job, and then took a second fiction workshop where I pretended to be Italo CalvinoxGeorge Saunders: end result, 10 pages of the painful romance of barnacles.)


My brother bought me "Civilwarland in Bad Decline" a few years ago for Christmas & I've been making my way through his work ever since. Love George Saunders.

Ham Snadwich

I love everything George Saunders has written, with the noteable exception of The Braindead Megaphone.


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