“The Semplica Girl Diaries” Summary by George Saunders

"The Semplica Girl Diaries" Summary by George Saunders
“The Semplica Girl Diaries” Summary

“The Semplica Girl Diaries” is a short story by George Saunders from his 2013 collection Tenth of December. It’s a fascinating story that a summary can’t do justice to, so I recommend you read it in full. If you need a refresher, here’s a summary of “The Semplica Girl Diaries”. It’s written in the form of journal entries that aren’t grammatically correct and aren’t always in full sentences. I’ve imitated that style somewhat in parts.

“The Semplica Girl Diaries” Summary

(September 3)

A forty-year-old man starts a journal so future generations will know what life was like in his time. He decides to write twenty minutes a night no matter what.

Things could be very different in the future. Maybe cats won’t fight at night because of some new treatment. Maybe belief in supernatural forces will seem quaint. Maybe pencils will be replaced by laser pens.

(Sept. 5)

Yesterday was rough. While picking up the kids from school, the bumper fell off the car right after Eva asked what “junkorama” meant. She said it’s fine and he agreed. Lilly said it doesn’t matter because they’ll get a new car when they’re rich.

The history teacher helped pick up the bumper. He had this happen to him back when he was poor in college. They drove home with the bumper across the three kids’ laps in the back. He put the bumper in the garage and cleaned up the remains of a small, maggoty animal.

The man wants to do better so the kids have good memories. Need to balance checkbook and clean up around the house. He always felt he’d be rich with lots of leisure time.

(Sept. 6)

Attended a depressing birthday party yesterday for Lilly’s friend Leslie. They live in a mansion filled with rare and valuable things, and have several expensive cars. They have two gardeners and food was flown in special. There’s a huge treehouse, about a third the size of the narrator’s house, and a star-watching platform. They have horses and llamas; we only have a dog.

To top it off, they have the largest SG arrangement on their front lawn he’s ever seen, all in white smocks. Lilly had a close look, while Eva stayed back.

The present they brought—a paper doll set—was probably the cheapest, but Leslie’s family liked it because it was kitsch. Everyone else brought expensive gifts.

The father, Emmett, does work with electronic brain inserts, and thinks the narrator’s work is degrading.

Pam, the man’s wife, drove home; he was too drunk. The kids loved the party. Lilly looks forward to her party in two weeks, but knows it can’t be like that one. Back home, their place looks all the worse by comparison. Nothing fancy and definitely no SGs.

The man doesn’t like rich people. They make poor and middle people feel inadequate. Tomorrow is Monday and he has to go to stupid work.

(Sept. 7)

It’s a privilege to work and he doesn’t hate the rich; he wants to be rich. It will be nice to know he’s earned it.

Little celebration at work today. Lots of mini-flags and dry sandwiches.

Eva was sad last night about the SGs. Need to explain to her that it doesn’t hurt and they’re not sad; this is an improvement on their old life and they choose it. They can send money home to their poor parents.

Had some awkwardness at work from making stupid small talk.

(Sept. 8)

Had a long walk in Woodcliffe, an affluent neighborhood. The man saw men his age relaxing; they own lots of lavish things. Saw more SGs blowing in the wind. One of them was startled by a dog and was rebuked from inside. He prayed for more, for his kids’ sake.

(Sept. 12)

Lilly’s party is nine days away. The narrator’s feeling pressure, maybe because his own thirteenth birthday party was sub-par. Lilly wants a cheetah figurine on an ornamental pillow or a figurine of a little girl reading, both expensive. He got a bouncy ball and a homemade shirt for his birthday.

He doesn’t want to disappoint Lilly. When the kids had to talk about their yard at school, her friend had pictures of an Oriental bridge and the SGs. Lots of other kids had nice yards too. Lilly brought in a 1940s prophylactic box dug up from the yard.

Lilly doesn’t want a party. The man knows it’s because of their small house and bare yard. He’ll put the girl figurine on Visa; no, the cheetah because it’s more expensive. Maybe she’ll be pleasantly surprised.

“The Semplica Girl Diaries” Summary, Cont’d

(Sept. 14)

Caught a coworker making some errors on a task and he signed off on them. They redid it so he could mark him good.

One week until Lilly’s birthday. Need to order cheetah. Visa is maxed out, as is AmEx and Discover is close. Need to wait for paycheck to clear and transfer some money to order the present on time. For those in the future, credit cards let you buy things you don’t have the money for.

He wants to give the kids more so they won’t feel too cautious about money. He’d like to teach the kids a lesson about going for it, maybe with a buried treasure and map he could make. He doesn’t have the money or time.

The narrator’s Dad kept going when Mom left and he lost his job. He got a worse job and kept trying. He was almost out of debt when he died. He always brought them candy even when he had a bad job.

(Sept. 15)

Won’t be able to get the cheetah for Lilly. Money won’t clear on time. Could wrap a picture of it like Mom used to do sometimes and promise to get it later. Then, they’ll go for lunch at the best restaurant in town and buy two figurines, better ones. Poor Lilly! She didn’t know she wouldn’t be rich. When will his dreams come true? He’s had a headache for three days.

(Sept. 20)

The man’s been too happy and busy to write! He won ten thousand dollars on a scratch ticket. He buys one every week.

They could have paid down the credit cards, but he and Pam decided to do something for Lilly’s party. She’s been down. He arranged to have the yard redone while she’s at school with bushes, a pathway, a pond, a hot tub and four SGs. They sent out secret invitations to the party.

He and Pam had some time together, like in the early days. So happy! Much better than being sad, which he got used to from the money stress. Everything happens tomorrow.

(Sept. 21, Lilly’s birthday)

Today was perfect. Greenway did the yard by two and the SGs were installed right after. He and Pam went inside while they were being hoisted because Pam’s a bit squeamish. The four of them are three feet off the ground—Tami, Gwen, Lisa and Betty—and all from different countries. The yard looks great and it feels good.

He picked Lilly up from school. She thought she was going to the doctor, but that was just a ruse. While they drove, the family decorated everything and the guests arrived. Lilly came home to a beautiful yard and party. She cried with happiness.

They bought her more figurines than she asked for. They played games in the new yard, which all the guests loved. Lilly was so happy.

The only negative was Eva. After the party, she was upset about the SGs. They explained they chose to do this. He was going to read their files to Eva so she’s understand but most were too sad. He read Betty’s, because it was best. Her family lost their shelter in an earthquake and she’s helping her brother go to school for computers. He showed her the SGs and they didn’t look sad. Eva’s always been sensitive. Some toughness is needed in this world.

Lilly wrote thank you notes and cleaned up in the house and yard without being asked.

"The Semplica Girl Diaries" Summary by George Saunders
“The Semplica Girl Diaries” Summary, continued

(Sept. 22)

Everything is still happy. People at work admired pictures of the yard. Steve Z asked hsi advice on buying scratch offs. Bought new shirts for work. He wants Pam to have better clothes. She wasn’t raised rich, but her family had more than the people in their area.

He bought another scratch ticket. The owner remembered him and he got acknowledged as a winner, which was nice.

The yard still looks great. Greenway comes by three time a day to feed and tend to the SGs. Leslie was visiting Lilly when he got home, which she’s never done by herself. Them becoming better friends is big. She likes how our SGs reflect in the pond. She calls home to ask for a pond but gets turned down. It feels nice to have something others want.

They’ve handled the money well by just doing what was best for the family. He wants to extend these positive feelings into other areas—work, nature, trips. Give the kids memorable experiences and maybe be important people. He’s been sleepwalking through life, but no more!

(Sept. 23)

Eva’s sensitivity is causing problems. She was disruptive at school and drew a picture of sad looking SGs. Her father drove her through a nice neighborhood where 39 out of the 50 houses had SGs. They looked happy, but Eva still doesn’t get it.

Eva doesn’t know how the SGs don’t die. He explains the science invented by Lawrence Semplica—the microline through the brain that gets threaded with silk—and how it doesn’t hurt. He explains Lilly is starting high school and they want her to be proud of her family. He tells her about a summer job he had that wasn’t great. He did it back then but wouldn’t do it now. Things are relative. The SGs have seen much worse so this isn’t bad to them. He thinks he got through to her.

The narrator found out when his Dad was old that Mom left him for a guy at work. He always complimented her and Dad wasn’t like that. They started sneaking away to hotels and she fell in love with him. At school, Sister Delores made the class miss recess talking about the sin of divorce.

Pam says Eva is smart and will adjust. She’ll forget all about this in a month and be back to normal.

(Sept. 30)

Todd Grassberger, a colleague, died this week. There was a fire drill at work. Everyone went outside and lounged around. In the afternoon, they found out Todd died of a heart attack during lunch. Everyone was stunned and no work got done.

The narrator feels closer to his family tonight. They pray before dinner, which is unusual. He thinks of Todd doing regular things a few days ago, but where is he now?

(Oct. 1)

The narrator attends Todd’s funeral. The priest gives an intense sermon about the fragility of life. The crowd gets distracted by the smell of roast beef coming from the kitchen. Todd’s brothers give a tribute. The younger brother praises Todd although he was a bully and made life difficult. Todd’s youngest daughter says goodbye.

The roast beef lunch is great and the man is glad he’s not dead. He’d want Pam to remarry if he died, to a boring guy who’s a bit sad. He thinks about him and his family dying. It seems cruel.

He wants to be a better person. He tells his family life is short and they should go for what they want. The kids go to bed easily, probably affected by his moving speech. He feels good about positively affecting them.

(Oct. 2)

In the morning, Thomas, the narrator’s son, notices the SGs are gone. The man runs in the street looking for them. He calls Greenway and the police. They won’t get far on foot, but the police say they probably won’t be. Most likely their in an activist van. It’s the fourth incident this month.

Rob, from Greenway, arrives and tells them if the SGs aren’t found, they’re liable for the remaining replacement value of the SGs, which amounts to $8,600. The narrator and Pam protest they didn’t know about this. Rob explains that was Melanie’s fault. She tried to rush sales, especially with people who were being cheap.

The police haven’t found any of the other missing SGs. If they can’t pay, Greenway will sue and garnish their wages. Rob leaves the family angry. Pam thinks they’ll lose the house.

Eva bursts into tears and apologizes. The man realizes she did it. She shows them how. She used the stepladder to release the lever on each side, which lowered the SGs to the ground. They conferred a moment and then ran off.

The narrator knows they can’t be doing well. He gets angry and insults the kids for being ungrateful and accuses them all of being in on it. They leave upset. He explains to future generations that families sometimes have dark moments where they fight and think it would be better to be alone. This is one of those times.

In the garage, he thinks how the best luck of his life turned into the worst mess. Pam gets him to come inside. He apologizes for the outburst and they hug. He picks up Eva who apologizes. He says they’ll figure something out.

The narrator doesn’t want Pam to call her Dad, who calls himself Farmer Rich. He’s rich and he doesn’t like the man. He thinks SGs are for show offs; he thinks anything fun is for show offs.

They look at the bills and try to figure it out themselves. It seems hopeless. Pam emails her Dad just to see what he says.

“The Semplica Girl Diaries” Summary, Cont’d

(Oct. 6)

Farmer Rich responds. He’s not going to help. The family hasn’t used their money wisely and they’ve brought this on themselves. He thinks they’ll learn a good lesson from getting out of it themselves. Pam calls him but it doesn’t help.

Pam thinks this is typical of them. They can’t confess it was Eva’s fault and hope for leniency from Greenway because releasing SGs is a felony. It could go on her record; she might have to get counseling. It could ruin her life. He and Pam agree they must protect Eva.

Pam is concerned about her husband’s journaling. Could the book be subpoenaed and get them in trouble? Maybe it should be destroyed. He likes writing in it and doesn’t want to stop. Maybe their little case is low priority and things will blow over.

(Oct. 8)

Things get worse. The narrator works a normal day with everything on his mind. When he gets home, there’s a detective, Jerry, in the yard. Activists are a priority for the city. Jerry sympathizes with the man’s plight and is determined to get to the bottom of it. He also doesn’t like illegal immigrants and dark people. He’s sure he would have been stabbed by a dark student if he had stayed a teacher.

Jerry is lonely because his wife recently died. He has no other connections and will devote himself completely to solving the case. He notices it doesn’t look like a regular activist job. Jerry stays in the yard until midnight to get in the mind of the perp. He hums, which disturbs the family, but they can’t alienate him.

The household is tense and the kids fight. They’re caught watching an inappropriate reality show. The man thinks how he and Pam gave up so much for their family and this is where they’ve ended up.

The kids are all sleeping. He sees a project Lilly made for school about the SGs. He doesn’t understand why they ran off. He imagines them leaving home to better their families’ lives and their triumphant return when their contract is up. Now they’ve ruined everything. What did they want so much to pull this kind of stunt?

Jerry finally leaves the yard. The man sees the ugly, empty rack outside and thinks of calling Greenway to take it away.

I hope this summary of “The Semplica Girl Diaries” by George Saunders was helpful.