The Red Bow by George Saunders, 2009
The magic trick:
Never explicitly describing the tragedy at the core of the story
It’s been awhile here on the blog since we featured Syracuse’s finest. Far too long.
“The Red Bow,” like much of Saunders’s best work, exposes the seemingly good intentions of the suburbs as a horror show. Clearly there has been a tragedy in the story’s town. But no one ever really mentions the specifics. The narrator dances around the subject surely because of the raw pain. It was his daughter killed in the accident from what we gather. The rest of the town, however, seems to forget the specifics in the rush to unleash their own pent-up self-righteous anger. The red bow begins to take on the symbolic identity for the town’s tragedy and loss – which is just so perfect, isn’t it, in this day and age of simple, benign signifiers for real and true pain. The story quickly becomes less about a family’s loss or even the potential danger facing the town and almost completely about society’s need to vent anger and revel in the role of the victim. I can’t think of a (sadly) more accurate picture of middle-class, social-media America than that. And that’s quite a trick on Saunders’s part.
And Uncle Matt produced from his shirt pocket a red bow and said: Father, do you have any idea what this is and where we found it?
But it was not the real bow, not Emily’s bow, which I kept all the time in my pocket, it was a pinker shade of red and was a little bigger than the real bow, and I recognized it as having come from our Karen’s little box on her dresser.
No I do not know what that is, said Father Terry. A hair bow.
I for one am never going to forget that night, said Uncle Matt. What we all felt. I for one am going to work to make sure that no one ever again has to endure what we had to endure that night.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.