Adams by George Saunders, 2004
The magic trick:
Successfully creating an allegory that works completely on all levels
A few months back, I complained about Stephen Crane’s “A Dark Brown Dog” as a seriously flawed allegory. It was too obvious as a metaphor and too boring on its surface level. Who am I to criticize Stephen Crane? No one. But I did, so there you go.
Flash back to today, and we have a story that I’d hold up as an exemplary allegory. “Adams” is wonderfully deranged and fast-paced if you’re only reading for surface-level entertainment. The language recalls yesterday’s Saunders story, “Adams.” (Its mashup of Valley Girl run-on sentence slang and cliched adult male authority is manic and amazing.) The story in the foreground also offers plenty of commentary about the competitive, self-absorbed culture of 20th-century American suburbs (more on that tomorrow at the SSMT). But allegorically, it also works perfectly as a critique of George W. Bush and the Iraq War. Every level accounted for! And that’s quite a trick on Saunders’s part.
So I wonked him again, and when she crawled at me, going, Please, Please, I had to push her back down, not in a mean way but in a like stay-there way, which is when, of course, just my luck, the kids came running in—these Adams kids, I should say, are little thespians, constantly doing musicals in the back yard, etc., etc.—so they’re, you know, all dramatic: Mummy, Daddy! And, O.K., that was unfortunate, so I tried to leave, but they were standing there in the doorway, blocking me, like, Duh, we do not know which way to turn, we are stunned. So I shoved my way out, not rough, very gentle—I felt for them, having on more than one occasion heard Adams whaling on them, too—but one did go down, just on one knee, and I helped her up, and she tried to bite me! She did not seem to know what was what, and it hurt, and made me mad, so I went over to Adams, who was just getting up, and gave him this like proxy wonk on top of his head, in exchange for the biting.