Thursday, July 1, 2010

George Saunders, "Victory Lap"

Here’s a blast from the past that is well worth a note. It’s one of the best stories that the TNY has published in the last year or so. I mean George Saunders’ “Victory Lap” (TNY, Oct. 5, 2009) (which tied as the TNY 2009 story of the year in Perpetual Folly’s ranking).

Saunders pulls off a tremendous feat by combining three very different voices (two teenagers and an older man) in a story in which something actually happens: a guy tries to kidnap a teenage girl (for perverse sexual reasons), and a teenage neighbor intervenes to save her. What makes all this an even greater achievement is that the voices come out clearly while using a third-person narrator, inflected in accordance with the character each section follows. The ending, in which the most gruesome scene is blurred by protective parents, is masterful. The sections focalized on the teenage neighbor (Kyle Boot) are hilarious, each detail a testimony to the maddening obsession with precision and control that drives Kyle’s parents.

If there is room for improvement, I find it in the first section, focused on Alison Pope: it was too long and too static for a story that size, very clearly an introduction in which you can see telltale signs of the writing techniques being used. After that section, action takes over, and characters are fleshed out according to the action; the problems with section one are long gone by then, and a great story emerges. Oh, a couple sentences missed their step with regard to the tone of the section; I’m thinking of these, which I would’ve suggested extirpating: “When you studied history, the history of cultures, you saw your own individual time as hidebound. There were various theories of acquiescence.”

In any case. Terrific story. One of those pieces that reward you for sticking to The New Yorker’s fiction. 

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