The End Of FIRPO In The World by George Saunders, 1998
The magic trick:
Creating radically different emotional effects, first half to second half
Some of my favorite songs are split personalities. They go about their business for a few minutes in one direction and then abruptly shift into a totally different gear. The Super Furry Animals are masters of this. “A Day In The Life” by The Beatles is probably a more recognizable example.
Anyway, I think of this story as being akin to those kind of two-toned songs. The emotional pull in “FIRPO” changes dramatically from first half to second half. I’m not sure Saunders is 100-percent effective in this magic trick, but it’s a heck of thing to attempt.
The story begins with humor. We get classic Saunders interior monologue taking us into the mind of a kid who imagines a time when he will have the last laugh about his bullies. There’s some sadness in there too, I suppose. It’s certainly easy to feel sorry for the kid. But mainly this is reading like gothic comedy.
Then things switch.
Suddenly – and I mean very suddenly – the plot necessitates a change in tone. This kid is pulling on the reader’s heartstrings in the extreme. We have a closing scene drenched in the kind sentimentality that would make Dickens cry. Seriously, it’s really, really sad.
In all, it kind of feels like a writing experiment more than a story. Something just didn’t quite connect for me. Maybe neither extreme – first half follies or second half sadness – rang true enough for me. But, again, I’m dazzled by the attempt to slam such changing emotional manipulations into one 10-page story. And that’s quite a trick on Saunders’s part.
Were the Dalmeyers home?
Their gray car was still in the driveway.
He would need to make another lap.
Yesterday he had picked up a bright-red goalie pad and all three Dalmeyers had screamed at him, Not that pad Cody you dick, we never use those pads in the driveway because they get scuffed, you rectum, those are only for ice, were you born a rectal shitbrain or did you take special rectal shitbrain lessons, in rectal shitbrain lessons did they teach you how to ruin everybody’s things?
As always, join the conversation in the comments section below, on SSMT Facebook or on Twitter @ShortStoryMT.
Subscribe to the Short Story Magic Tricks Monthly Newsletter to get the latest short story news, contests and fun.