Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Gassing Up a Story...

When I was a kid I had one of these Hot Wheels devices designed to look like a little gas station. Inside the gas station were two spinning rubber wheels. One's little car would weakly approach the gas station, then be sent around the track or, more often, fly out and hit one's sister in the face.

A story can be thought of as a series of these little gas stations. The main point is to get the reader around the track; that is, to the end of the story. Any other pleasures a story may offer (theme, character, moral uplift) are dependent upon this.

-- George Saunders on Donald Barthelme's short story "The School."

I read "The School" myself the first time a few months ago, and upon first reading I must say I wasn't that impressed. But Saunders' argument that "The School" perfectly exemplifies his gas station theory prompts me to take a second look. Mayhap there's something I missed the first time around.