George Saunders’s Sea Oak was an interesting story that, although delving into surrealism, also fulfilled the requirements for a functional and entertaining short story. Although I am not normally a fan of characters rising from the dead, I was able to appreciate the story because of its otherwise realistic qualities. I found that the detail in the characters’ actions, combined with the believable situation of the main character and the humor strewn throughout the story, was able to make up for the fact that it couldn’t happen.
One feature of the story that I really enjoyed was the humor. It was extremely effective, partly because it was just subtle enough to be believable but also because it worked so well with the characters’ ignorance and the story’s cynical outlook on lower-middle class America. For example, in response to Aunt Bernie’s constant positive outlook, Jade comments, “Man, what an optometrist.” The story’s cynical tone is an indispensable aspect of the story’s humor as well. The reader is shown that the main character knows how bad his situation is and must deal with it continually. For example, when the family is choosing a casket for Aunt Bernie, “I step over and take a closer look. There are staples where Aunt Bernie’s spine should be. Down at the foot there’s writing about Folding Tab A into Slot B.” The characters eat “Stars-n-Flags,” a caffeine-filled meat-nugget based microwave food, for dinner. They encounter stores like HardwareNiche and FunTimeZone, and the main character works at a strip-restaurant. The constant satire is very entertaining, and I think the fact that it is satire makes up for Aunt Bernie’s rising from the dead.
Near the end, the story does get a little preachy. The reader is left with a carpe diem sort of moral, as the characters are at least slightly changed and motivated to better themselves. Despite this, I still believe Sea Oak was a very entertaining short story.