Thursday, January 04, 2018

"The Barber's Unhappiness" (1999)

Read story by George Saunders online.

George Saunders's story is overwhelmed by a voice, which in turn has been overwhelmed by life and circumstances. The voice belongs to the barber of the title, who believes he should be married and living a conventional life. But it doesn't appear to be something he actually wants. He is like a character from Seinfeld, absurdly criticizing his prospects, which are mostly fantasies anyway that play through his head, apparently unceasingly. He sees a woman, spins a fantasy of wooing and winning her, and then spins further fantasies of the fights and troubles they would have, and from there flies into brief rages about women, and life, and circumstances. The barber is practically the only real person in the whole story. That's not entirely true. He meets people in a remedial driving course he has been required to attend for legal reasons. Details are not necessary in a mind so full of itself. Solipsism, thy name is this barber. Yet, again like those characters from Seinfeld, it's hard not to like this guy—or, at least, the rolling energies of his voice: "He ogled old women and pregnant women and women whose photographs were passing on the sides of buses and, this morning, a woman with close-cropped black hair and tear-stained cheeks, who wouldn't be half bad if she'd just make an effort, clean up a little and invest in some decent clothes, some white tights and a short skirt maybe, knee boots and a cowboy hat and a cigarillo, say, and he pictured her kneeling on a crude Mexican sofa, in a little mud hut, daring him to take her, and soon they'd screwed themselves into some sort of beanfield while some gaucho guys played soft guitars, although actually he'd better put the gaucho guys behind some trees or a rock wall so they wouldn't get all hot and bothered from watching the screwing and swoop down and stab him and have their way with Miss Hacienda as he bled to death, and come to think of it, forget the gauchos altogether, he'd just put some soft guitars on the stereo in the hut and leave the door open, although actually what was a stereo doing in a Mexican hut? Were there outlets?" That's from the first paragraph. It goes on like that awhile—a jumble of unpacked Freudian impulses that veer in all directions, with little to no evident self-consciousness. It's often very funny, sometimes a little poignant, and just a little exhausting. But I wouldn't miss it for anything.

Pastoralia by George Saunders

No comments:

Post a Comment