Redux: When They Could Have Been Anything

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Redux

Every week, the editors of The Paris Review lift the paywall on a selection of interviews, stories, poems, and more from the magazine’s archive. You can have these unlocked pieces delivered straight to your inbox every Sunday by signing up for the Redux newsletter.

George Saunders. Photo: Chloe Aftel. Courtesy of George Saunders.

This week, we’re thinking about fatherhood and Father’s Day. Read on for George Saunders’s Art of Fiction interview, Jonathan Escoffery’s story “Under the Ackee Tree,” and Louise Erdrich’s poem “Birth.”

If you enjoy these free interviews, stories, and poems, why not subscribe to The Paris Review and read the entire archive? You’ll also get four new issues of the quarterly delivered straight to your door. And for as long as we’re flattening the curve, The Paris Review will be sending out a new weekly newsletter, The Art of Distance, featuring unlocked archival selections, dispatches from the Daily, and efforts from our peer organizations. Read the latest edition here, and then sign up for more.

George Saunders, The Art of Fiction No. 245
Issue no. 231 (Winter 2019)

INTERVIEWER

Do you think you’d be a different writer if you hadn’t had children?

SAUNDERS

For sure. I’m not sure I would have ever published anything. Before we had our kids, I was a decent person, kind of habitually, but nothing felt morally urgent. Then the kids came, and everything suddenly mattered. The world had a moral charge. If I love these guys so much, it stands to reason that every other person in the world has somebody who loves them just as much—or they should have someone who loves them as much. The world was full of consequence. That which helps what you love is good, that which hurts it is bad, and even a small hurt is significant. You see somebody come into the world, tiny and brand new and blameless, and you’re like, That person deserves the best. So, by implication, everybody deserves the best.

Under the Ackee Tree
By Jonathan Escoffery
Issue no. 229 (Summer 2019)

You name your second son Trelawny to remind yourself of home. It long enough after you reach that you miss JA bad-bad. You miss walk down a road and pick Julie mango off street side. When you try pick Miami street-side mango, lady come out she house with rifle and shoot your belly and backside with BB. In the back of your Cutler Ridge town house, you start try grow mango tree and ackee tree with any seeds you come by, but no amount of water or fertilizer will get them to sprout.

Birth
By Louise Erdrich
Issue no. 111 (Summer 1989)

When they were wild
When they were not yet human
When they could have been anything,
I was on the other side ready with milk to lure them,
And their father, too, the name like a net in his hands.

And to read more from the Paris Review archives, make sure to subscribe! In addition to four print issues per year, you’ll also receive complete digital access to our sixty-seven years’ worth of archives.

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