Home by George Saunders, 2011
The magic trick:
The bizarre humor of the opening section
It doesn’t take long to recognize “Home” as a remarkable story. The opening section finds our first-person narrator arrives back home (from where or what we don’t know) and engages in a truly bizarre conversation with his mother and her new boyfriend. It’s weird and fast and hilarious and the writer’s voice isn’t quite like anything Saunders has written before – and that’s saying something considering that Saunders’s “voice” is arguably his great defining strength. What is even more remarkable is the way the opening’s tone takes on new shades of darkness and tragedy as the story progresses. By the end, the reader almost feels ashamed for reading the beginning section as humorous. And that’s quite a trick on Saunders’s part.
Inside were piles of newspapers on the stove and piles of magazines on the stairs and a big wad of hangers sticking out of the broken oven. All of that was as usual. New was: a water stain the shape of a cat head on the wall above the fridge and the old orange rug rolled up halfway.
“Still ain’t no beeping cleaning lady,” Ma said.
I looked at her funny.
“Beeping?” I said.
“Beep you,” she said. “They been on my case at work.”
It was true Ma had a pretty good potty mouth. And was working at a church now, so.
We stood there looking at each other.
Then some guy came tromping down the stairs: older than Ma even, in just boxers and hiking boots and a winter cap, long ponytail hanging out the back.