The Unlikely Hero in George Saunders’ Short Story, ‘The Falls’

Capsized green canoe wedged between rocks and whitewater rapids in the James River Richmond, Virginia.
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Reading The Falls, a short story by George Saunders at The New Yorker, you’re privy to the self-centered thinking of two very different men on separate strolls around town. Morse is riddled with anxiety; a married father of two who second-guesses his parenting skills, his marriage, and every other thought. Cummings’ interior reel focuses on his as-yet-undiscovered greatness and the shock his family and local residents will feel when his greatness is finally revealed to all. But which of the two will rouse from their reverie to act when two young girls paddling in a canoe suddenly face danger? You’ll need to read the story to find out.

Morse was tall and thin and as gray and sepulchral as a church about to be condemned. His pants were too short, and his face periodically broke into a tense, involuntary grin that quickly receded, as if he had just suffered a sharp pain. At work he was known to punctuate his conversations with brief wild laughs and gusts of inchoate enthusiasm and subsequent embarrassment, expressed by a sudden plunging of his hands into his pockets, after which he would yank his hands out of his pockets, too ashamed of his own shame to stand there merely grimacing for even an instant longer.

…Morse, ha, Cummings thought, I’m glad I’m not Morse, a dullard in corporate pants trudging home to his threadbare brats in the gathering loam, born, like the rest of his ilk with their feet of clay thrust down the maw of conventionality, content to cheerfully work lemminglike in moribund cubicles while comparing their stocks and bonds between bouts of tedious lawnmowing, then chortling while holding their suckling brats to the Nintendo breast.

Read the short story