Reading Jen George’s satirical short story collection The Babysitter at Rest (2016) is a simultaneously entertaining and discomforting experience. As I started the first story, “Guidance/The Party,” I constantly laughed aloud at the narrator’s self-deprecating humor. At the start of the story, a character dubbed The Guide arrives at the house of a 33-year-old woman. The Guide is a robed, genderless person who becomes both a motherly and sexually attractive figure to George’s narrator. Hilarity ensues: “Though you’re visibly aging, you’ve failed to transition [into middle age] properly and now it’s the last hour,” says the guide. “Increasingly, less can be done. But taking walks is good.” And the narrator rambles on, trying to explain herself: “I didn’t get boobs or a butt until I was twenty. I didn’t go to college immediately, and when I did I mostly just slept with my professors… Once, over a period of nine months, I slept sixteen hours each night, leading to a somewhat significant loss of time.” Clearly, George’s dark humor is apparent right off the bat.
But, what becomes apparent throughout the rest of this story and in the other four stories of the collection is the underlying vulnerability and fear to George’s humor. In a way, George uses dark humor to scratch at the surface of the desperation of her narrators: The middle-aged woman in “Guidance/The Party” wants to sleep with all the guests at her last-supper-esque dinner party. The young woman in “Babysitter at Rest” has an affair with an older man who calls her “child.” In “Take Care of Me Forever,” a woman dying in the hospital falls in love with the Artist/Doctor. In “Futures in Child Rearing,” a woman trying to conceive spends five thousand dollars on Emerald quail eggs that she shoves up her vagina to stimulate ovulation. In “Instruction,” a student-artist has an unloving affair with “The Teacher/older man” as she struggles to figure out her place in the world.
By the end of the collection, I’m no longer laughing at all. –Sage Marshall
Sage Marshall '19 studies English at Wesleyan University. He is co-founder and editor of Reverberations.
Babysitter at Rest
Written by Jen George
Published by The Dorojecthy Project