Fractured fairy-tales

By JAMES PARKER  |  January 23, 2008

As a journalist, which he occasionally is, Saunders magically reverses his fictive powers to become an un-teller of stories, an expert picker-apart of half-baked narratives. “Once upon a time,” begins his immigration-themed piece “The Great Divider,” “there was a wealthy country. Just to the south was a poor country. Between them ran a border.” In search of truth, Saunders patrols this border (on the Texas side) with the twitchy territorials of the Minutemen Project, finding them likable, ridiculous, dangerous, harmless, bonkers, and above all, armed.

“I’ve read that you’re a Christian,” he challenges Jim Gilchrist, founder of the Minuteman Project. “What’s the relation of this Minuteman ethic to your Christianity?” “Charity is good,” replies Gilchrist. “Benevolence is good. But charity begins at home. And their home is Mexico.” (Saunders’s take on Gilchrist: “Strong passions, about something or other, keep emitting forth from him, in a sideways manner that makes you keep listening, in the same way that seeing a beginner skater fly by carrying a stack of dishes might make you keep watching.”)

Aspects of Fairyland lend themselves, no doubt, to endless extrapolation: the symbols can be psychoanalyzed, the patterns deconstructed, and so on.

But the golden key, or the silver bullet, is simplicity — goodness, badness, life and death. The fairy tale, wrote JRR Tolkien, “denies (in the face of much evidence, if you will) universal final defeat . . . giving a fleeting glimpse of Joy, Joy beyond the walls of the world, poignant as grief.”

No true teller of fairy tales will waver in his or her pursuit of this poignancy, even to the point of being religiose/mawkish: “There they sat,” ends HCA’s “The Snow Queen,” “and they were grown-ups and children at the same time, children at heart. And it was summer — warm, wonderful summer.”

And Saunders, basically, is looking for nothing but love: everyday and exalted, the common bonds of humanity. His piece “Manifesto” takes the form of a press release from the PRKA (People Reluctant To Kill for an Abstraction): “We rise in the morning with no plans to convert anyone via beating, humiliation, murder, or invasion. . . . We stand under awnings during urban thunderstorms, moved to thoughtfulness by the beautiful, troubled, umbrella-tinged faces rushing by.” The piece ends: “We are worldwide. We, in fact, outnumber you. Though you are louder, though you create a momentary ripple on the water of life, we will endure, and prevail. Join us. Resistance is futile.”

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