Sat outside yesterday with the dog, happy to be in the warmth, and read through the title story of Saunders’ book.
It’s a beautiful little story. Not as startling as some of the early stories he wrote, not as unusual. But beautiful and strangely kind, at the end. There’s always some undercurrent of compassion in his work, but half the time it’s the absence of compassion that he’s drawing attention to. Here, at least with this final story, there’s just compassion and nothing else — like it’s a story about compassion, its value and its cost.
Anyway the last two pages are strikingly moving. Not so much because we’re so invested with the characters — the boy is sympathetic but not finely drawn, and the old man inspires sympathy mostly because of his condition — but because his description of the man’s dilemma, and its resolution, is so heartbreakingly thoughtful and genuine. The wife showing up at the end of the story, his recognition of her concern and her love, and his understanding that it wasn’t his right to withhold any connection or chance at grace just to spare his dignity, all of that was unforgettable.
It’s all the more striking because in the past, I think he wouldn’t have reached for that moment in the story. It would have ended only sadly, or horribly.