Al Roosten by George Saunders, 2009
The magic trick:
Al’s interaction with the homeless man at the end of the story
The stories in Tenth Of December are all about compare-contrast scenarios Very often he accomplishes these little juxtapositions by switching between characters’ points of view mid-story. In “Al Roosten,” he’s subtler in his approach. He never leaves Roosten’s point of view. The reader gets a series of insecurities and false brags in Al’s brain (another classic Saunders interior monologue) as he silently rants and raves about his richer, more successful neighbors. It’s only at the very end of the story, do we see the flip on the compare-contrast. Al turns his internal rant against a homeless man, bringing home the story’s main point. And that’s quite a trick on Saunders’s part.
He believed they preferred to be called “homeless.” Hadn’t he read that? “Hobo” being derogatory? Jesus, that took nerve. Guy never works a day in his life, just goes around stealing pies off windowsills, then starts yelping about his rights? He’d like to walk up to a homeless and call him a hobo. He would, he’d do it, he’d grab that damn hobo by the collar and go, Hey, hobo, you’re ruining my business. I’ve missed my rent two months in a row. Go back to the foreign country you probably—