Tenth of December by George Saunders: The Semplica-Girl Diaries

Tenth of December

The Semplica-Girl Diaries has a dystopian feel to it. Its epistolary narrative is written by a man who just turned forty. Although he hasn’t given up on the American Dream, his family with his wife, Pam and three children, Lilly, Thomas, and Eva are not well off. The narrator is a good man, caring for his family as much as he can while depriving himself of any luxuries. But still, he is hurt when they go to the birthday part of Lilly’s friend, Leslie Torrini. The Torrinis are very wealthy, and they do not hide it. Food served at the party are delicacies flown from other countries, Leslie’s tree house ‘almost twice the size of their house’ according to Thomas. It’s Lilly’s birthday in two weeks, and the family knows they can’t afford remotely anything that would resemble the grandeur of Leslie’s party. So Lilly says she doesn’t want a party and instead asks for gifts that cost around $250-$350, and even that they are not in a position to pay for.

Naturally, the parents are devastated. The father doesn’t want their financial constraints to destroy the self-worthiness of their children, but in a society where class hierarchy prevails, it seems inevitable. When the narrator wins $10,000 on a scratch-off, it looks like the family’s luck has turned around. And the parents decide to throw Lilly a big surprise party by using most of that money to put up a large display of Semplica Girls – young women brought from poor countries to function as garden ornaments.

The Semplica-Girl Diaries is a painful story. The narrator here is empathetic, and one would think the narrator would realize the ridiculousness of flaunting Semplica Girls as ornaments of success. But he doesn’t see anything wrong with that, and nor does his family except for the eight-year-old Eva. So the story ends badly for her.

I don’t think The Semplica-Girl Diaries is Saunder’s best, but it is a good story nonetheless. You can read it here.

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