dumpingA good starting place for reading the stories of George Saunders might not be Tenth of December, but The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, a fable that is as appropriate for kids as it is for adults. The story centers around the seaside town of Frip, which consists of three families: The Ronsens, a husband and wife who look exactly alike, and have two daughters who stand very still; Bea Romo, a big, angry woman with two big, angry sons, all of whom are big, angry singers; and our heroine, Capable, and her father, who live in the red house closest to the sea. Capable’s mother is dead, and her father is crippled by it. From now on, he needs everything to stay the same. For example, the last meal her mother ever cooked was rice, and so now Capable’s father only wants to eat white food–Capable must paint all of his food with chalk dust for him to eat it.

The worst part about living in Frip, though, is their issue with gappers. Gappers are small, baseball-sized sea creatures (“bright orange, with multiple eyes like the eyes on a potato”) with an insatiable love of goats. Every day, gappers invade the yards of Frip and attach themselves to their goats, shrieking happily once they’ve done so, and terrifying the goats in the process. Terrified goats deliver no milk, so every day, the children of Frip must don their gapper-brushes and gapper-sacks and toss them back into the sea…which, immediately, replays the whole terrible scenario again.

Things get tricky, though, when a “less-stupid” gapper realizes that splitting off into three separate yards is less effective than going to the nearest yard each time. This gapper convinces all the other gappers to move into the closest yard to the sea–Capable’s yard. She awakes to find all her goats seized with terror, covered in thousands of orange, shrieking softballs. The other two yards, consequently, have none.

“It’s a miracle!” Mrs. Romo shouted next morning, when she came out and discovered that her yard was free of gappers. “This is wonderful! Capable, dear, you poor thing. The miracle didn’t happen for you, did it? I feel so sorry for you. God has been good to us, by taking our gappers away. Why? I can’t say. God knows what God is doing, I guess! I suppose we must somehow deserve it! Boys! Boys! Come out and look!”

Saunders masterfully depicts a theology of glory in the face of suffering, the human propensity to balk at another’s misfortune and claim it as some karmic act of one’s own moral responsibility. The two other families, though surprised at their good fortune, are quick to take the credit and slow to lend a hand. In fact, they don’t lend a hand. Capable, working herself silly, is incapable of doing the task alone. Her father is no help to her, and neither are her neighbors, and so the only thing she is, well, capable of doing is asking for help. She writes a letter to her neighbors. The Ronsens and The Romos respond in kind.

“Do you know what I believe?…I believe we make our own luck in this world,” said Sid Ronsen. “I believe that, when my yard suddenly is free of gappers, why, that is because of something good I have done. Because, as both of you ladies know, I have always been a hard worker.”

“As have I,” said Bea Romo. “I too have always been a hard worker, as have my boys, and look: No gappers, just like you. I suppose one might say that we too have made our own luck. With our hard work.”

“Work, work, work,” said Carol Ronsen.


Capable finds no help at all. She decides to sell her goats to the neighboring town, and take up fishing to make her living. Fishing, in the town of Frip, is a no-no. Her father can’t believe it’s come to this, his daughter fishing to keep them alive, but still he won’t help. She fishes anyways.

You can guess what happens next. With the goats out of Capable’s yard, the gappers find a new home to torment. The Romos are next in line, waking the following morning to a yard full of shrieking, orange goats. The Ronsens, on the other hand, are brought even greater joy!

“I feel like praying,” said Sid Ronsen. “I feel like thanking God for giving us whatever trait we have that keeps us so free of gappers.”

“We should,” said Carol Ronsen. “We should pray.”

And the Ronsens prayed, thanking God for making them the sort of people who had no gappers, and they prayed that God would forgive Bea for not being that sort of person, and would have mercy on her, and, in His infinite mercy, would make Bea into a better sort of person, and take all her gappers away.

Sound familiar? Saunders is a Buddhist, but this sounds like it was pulled directly from Luke 18. The Pharisees go on thanking God for their winning character traits and seemingly endless fortune, right up until that fortune is flipped. Just the same, it doesn’t take long before the Ronsens join the duped tax collector, left begging for the very mercy they so condescendingly supplanted upon their less fortunate neighbors a day before. And just like the poor tax collector, it is only in being the unfortunate one that they ever really “get” mercy. This is the downward trajectory of the gospel–from beachfront prosperity to the swamp. Thankfully, though, mercy is granted in our heroine fisher(woman). In her loss, she is given a freedom she couldn’t have seen otherwise.

By ten Capable had caught enough fish for a nice dinner. The rest of the morning she swam and slept. In the early afternoon, she swam some more, made a sandcastle, and daydreamed a bit. She daydreamed about the old days when her father used to make her mother laugh by holding radishes in his eye sockets. She daydreamed about dressing up the Romo boys in goat suits and locking them in a closet full of gappers. In the late afternoon she daydreamed further, slept again, woke up, went for a swim, made a second sandcastle, then walked home happy, dragging behind her a huge gapper-sack full of fish.