Escape From Spiderhead by George Saunders, 2010
The magic trick:
Using a sci-fi world to comment on an aspect of our society’s real-world behavior
I praised Saunders last week for inverting the science-fiction paradigm in “Semplica-Girl Diaries:” he took an otherwise normal American society and blasted it into emotional outer space by inserting one surrealistic element. I guess that’s not really that novel, come to think of it. That’s pretty much the basis for all of magic realism. OK, whatever. I never claimed to know what I was talking about, and I’m sure as hell not going back and editing last week’s Semplica entry to account for this realization. Point is: Saunders is sticking to the sci-fi template in today’s story, “Escape From Spiderhead.” And that’s great, because it works.
“Spiderhead features a foreign, futuristic world filled with real-life emotions. As such, it recalls Saunders’s story, “Jon.” I was most impressed by the way the story comments on modern America’s propensity for rapid-fire sexual relationships. Jeff, our narrator, is forced to engage in a series of sexual encounters with two women early in the story. The experimental drugs all parties are on create the illusion of love and joy, only to be followed by disappointment and indifference. If that isn’t a shot fired at the way we fall in and out of love and lust, well, I just don’t know. And that’s quite a trick on Saunders’s part.
That is to say: a desire would arise and, concurrently, the satisfaction of that desire would also arise. It was as if (a) I longed for a certain (heretofore untasted) taste until (b) said longing became nearly unbearable, at which time (c) I found a morsel of food with that exact taste already in my mouth, perfectly satisfying my longing.
Every utterance, every adjustment of posture bespoke the same thing: we had known each other forever, were soul mates, had met and loved in numerous preceding lifetimes, and would meet and love in many subsequent lifetimes, always with the same transcendently stupefying results.