The Semplica-Girls Diaries

by kangcuzzi

Recently, a friend of mine expressed to me his desire to create a theatrical version of author George Saunder’s The Semplica-Girl Diaries, a short story about a middle-class, middle-aged man whose want to satisfy his daughter leads him to purchase a group of impoverished girls as garden installations (you can find the story here).

As soon as my friend notified me of such an endeavour, I immediately felt the compulsion to take a look at whatever had inspired him so much. Naturally, I spent some time trawling the web looking for the story, a healthy bunch of time reading it… and a hypnotic period of time just thinking about it, what it meant and how I could express what I had just read in coherency. Despite being short and incredibly simple in style, the story mesmerized my mind for an entire day. I found it creepy, powerful, beautiful yet twisted all at the same time – a sensation I rarely get from casual reading.

The entire story is written in an unconventional style: taking the form of several diary entries, the author uses a rushed, hectic first-person voice (with the occasional absence of pronouns and punctuation) to emulate the stressed nature of the narrator. The narrator is a man whose apparent lack of decadency continues to disappoint him and his family: in a series of diary entries he comments on how he feels bad for his children, all the while making half-hearted promises to ‘make things better’. His constant reference to his ‘future self’ implies a sense of apathy, a feeling of making his future self into a proxy of whatever he is missing out in the present, and this technique makes the reader feel a sense of pathos for the narrator and how hard he tries to fulfill the material desires of his children and, likewise, his wife.

Anyhow, he decides to fulfill the ‘void’ of extravagance in his life by purchasing a wonderfully designed garden for his daughter’s birthday. In order to complete the look (which already boasts a beautiful fish pond) he decides to purchase a ‘Semplica Girl’ rack: a rack featuring three or more impoverished girls who have applied to be strung up – with a wire through their heads – as garden decorations. A twisted, almost gross image that the narrator so effortlessly and nonchalantly discusses, an allusion to the detachment there exists between our world and their world; but, in another sense, the similarity there is in our values, beliefs and wants between us and them.

I don’t want to spoil the entire story, but I just wanted to make a few comments that I’ve had brewing in my mind for quite a while.

When I completed the story, I couldn’t help but wonder whether or not the rack of girls alluded to the man’s own life. As someone who sacrifices his everyday to plunge into an entirely different reality of seeming ‘wealthier’, he ultimately does not walk into a better life but instead, tangles himself into a wire of his own that forces him to walk – haltingly, step by step – on the tightrope of infinite desires. Just like a Semplica Girl, he hangs himself in his quest for more; perhaps a message from the author that material goodness isn’t what constitutes the fruit of life.

That is just one of the thoughts I had and could actually express, eloquently in words, and distanced from visceral thought.

Deeper meanings notwithstanding, I also have to commend George Saunders for his incredibly audacious and confident writing style – the way he experiments with how he writes, his syntax as well as his ‘play with words’ leaves me absolutely dumbfounded and utterly inspired as to how he could have done such. A creative feat that I, one day, hope to mimic.

( I understand this is a relatively incomplete and short ‘review’, if you could call it such, but I hope this inspired you to take a look at the story and conjure in your own minds the reflections that I see in mine. 🙂 )

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