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The Babysitter at Rest

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“I had to judge a story contest of 600+ anonymous stories and I read each one and without hesitation Jen George’s story was my favourite. I’m so happy this collection exists. I feel drunk with love for these stories. They’re so funny and weird and true.”—Sheila Heti

“With a weird, beautiful energy, George explores the challenges of woman-being: singlehood, self-doubt, motherhood, the dismaying fact of aging, the (dis)ability to love. A modern-day Jane Bowles, George engages these mysteries in prose that is funny, charming, dark, and insightful.” —Deb Olin Unferth

Five stories—several as long as novellas—introduce the world to Jen George, a writer whose furiously imaginative new voice calls to mind Donald Barthelme and Leonora Carrington no less than Kathy Acker and Chris Kraus. In “Guidance/The Party,” an ethereal alcoholic “Guide” in robes and flowing hair appears to help a thirty-three-year-old woman prepare a party for her belated adulthood; “Take Care of Me Forever” tragically lambasts the medical profession as a ship of fools afloat in loneliness and narcissism; “Instruction” chronicles a season in an unconventional art school called The Warehouse, where students divide their time between orgies, art critiques, and burying dead racehorses. Combining slapstick, surrealism, erotica, and social criticism, Jen George’s sprawling creative energy belies the secret precision and unexpected tenderness of everything she writes.

168 pages, Paperback

First published October 17, 2016

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About the author

Jen George

5 books60 followers
Jen George was born in Thousand Oaks, California. She lives and works in New York City. THE BABYSITTER AT REST (2016; Dorothy, a publishing project) is her first book.

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5 stars
249 (35%)
4 stars
253 (35%)
3 stars
135 (19%)
2 stars
51 (7%)
1 star
16 (2%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 118 reviews
Profile Image for Blair.
1,745 reviews4,171 followers
May 19, 2017
I would compare Jen George's stories to remembering a dream, or being inside a surrealist painting. Her characters feel to me like ordinary people who, when dropped into bizarre situations, adapt accordingly, just carrying on as if everything's normal. The result is a disconcerting yet beguiling blend of the mundane and the ludicrous.

Guidance / The Party
Q: What takes the place of looks?
A: Invisibility, irrelevance, debt, and unsuccessful stabs at saving to buy real estate.
A 33-year-old woman is visited by 'The Guide', an androgynous, angel-like figure who enters her apartment through the window and exhorts her to organise a 'mandatory party' to celebrate the transition to adulthood. The Guide conducts a review of the protagonist's existence and offers advice. In part two of the story, the protagonist becomes 'The Host', and conducts the increasingly disastrous party in mini-chapters with titles like 'Stagnation/social hiccups/injury'. This is a deadpan story, very sly and funny and true, and I could quote just about every line.

The Babysitter at Rest
I’ve been given a fresh start, a new beginning. It’s almost like being reborn, but without birth and childhood. I get to start as a young adult, when you are capable of looking after yourself and making decisions. When your body is in its prime. The only rules are you start pretty broke, and you have to have roommates.
This setup is typical of the stories here. The narrator knows as little about herself as we do – whatever her previous life was, her memory of it is mostly gone, and she can't be any more specific about her new age than 'between seventeen and twenty-two'. Comical weirdness permeates the story. At a party, the narrator is stalked by a man hiding in a hydrangea bush. She starts an affair with an older, married man called Tyler Burnett, who speaks in mechanical sentences ('I would like to fuck you vaginally or possibly anally'); she also babysits his child, who is a 'forever baby' – he will never age. Things break down as the story progresses: the narrator finds all her clothes have disappeared; she's fired from work, which has devolved from 'a job at the newspaper' to watering a single plant; her shared house descends into anarchy.

If there's such a thing as tragic-ironic (tragironic?), this story is it. As a newly minted young adult, the narrator may be technically capable of looking after herself and making decisions, but she doesn't succeed at either. However fantastic her conditions, the results are inevitable: disintegration, failure, chaos. It occurred to me that with their unspecific jobs and ages and their dressing-up-box outfits, the characters are like figures a child has placed in a dolls' house, or Sims. I'd have said 'Guidance / The Party' was my favourite story from the book, but 'The Babysitter at Rest' is the one that's stuck in my head most vividly.

Take Care of Me Forever
This, on the other hand, was probably my least favourite, if only because it's quite gruesome, queasy and uncomfortable. There's a nightmare atmosphere to the premise: a woman is confined to a hospital, tested and experimented on in increasingly extreme ways, unsure what is wrong with her – or if anything is. Of course, the scenes grow more and more farcical: the narrator wanders through a hole in the wall and encounters 'a naked painter with a very small penis', who she recognises as 'someone I used to do sex games with, only I didn't know they were sex games at the time'; a doctor asks for her 'lifetime accident and mishap history', and her story is turned into an art film even as she's still being 'diagnosed'. The story ends without resolution.

Futures in Child Rearing
A woman contemplates motherhood, worrying about her potential baby's name (she considers 'You Have Reached Your Destination' and 'You're OK') and the sort of compliments people will give him or her. She doesn't seem to have a father in mind, but of course that's the sort of thing that doesn't matter in these stories. She spends thousands of dollars on bizarre fertility aids, including quail eggs and crystals. Her 'ovulation machine' merely provides a string of catty verdicts on suggested names, until she switches it to the 'futures-in-child-rearing mode' and it describes three children she might have. Once again, there is no conclusion to the supposed theme but rather a collapse into despair and rage.

There is a sort of pleasing circularity in the collection closing with 'Instruction', which, like 'Guidance / The Party', is broken down into small, subtitled chapters. It deconstructs a common trope – an older man having a midlife-crisis affair with a beautiful, nubile student – and, in doing so, reveals how absurd it is. The man becomes 'the Teacher/older man with large hands', while the student is part of an art scheme at a place called 'The Warehouse'. When the student produces her first piece, 'it's hailed by the Teacher/older man with large hands as "sexy as hell while being totally amateur and bad." I'll admit that the praise went straight to my head.'

Again, I could write out hundreds of quotes from this story. I'm trying to stop myself from just writing out a description of the entire thing from start to finish. The stories in The Babysitter at Rest make me want to do that, for some reason: to describe and explain them to other people rather than analyse them.

I loved each of these stories. At the end of the book, I felt a bit overwhelmed by their wilful irrationality, and their similarity to each other. Reading through them again to write this review, however, I find myself feeling electrified by them – the way they combine realism that's almost hurtful with humour and fantasy.

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Profile Image for L.S. Popovich.
Author 2 books315 followers
February 20, 2021
I admire the author's boldness. There is a lack of restraint in the freewheeling bizarro-ideas. The stories function without character development, plot twists, or reflection. They are fast-paced, bare-bones cobbled-together surrealist evocations of modern day discontent, obsession and sexual fantasy. Shock and awe, surprise and delight, but plainly stated, divested of emotion, coupled with bland imagery and no sense of setting. Reads more like a dream diary, which is fine, but I hoped for more challenging fare, more relatable humor. Tone it down or expand the premise, adding some flesh-out characters and a pervasive setting to get me invested. But not everything has to go through the motions of posing as a traditional fictional product. At least this defies the mold.
Profile Image for Jenny (Reading Envy).
3,876 reviews3,039 followers
July 24, 2017
Another one from my Dorothy Publishing Project pile (which I purchased, so not a product placement). I had put this one aside but decided to finish it during the 24in48 readathon.

Suffice to say, this was not really the book for me. Uncomfortable sexuality combined with the surreal. I can see how that would appeal to some readers. The four stories in the collection are made up of much shorter snippets and blurbs that make for a disjointed reading experience, which seems to be the point.
Profile Image for Kevin.
Author 28 books35.4k followers
July 20, 2017
One of the weirdest books I've read this year. Its five stories feel like their own perverse little worlds. Like Ben Marcus if he was re-writing Georges Bataille. The dialogue is bonkers, frequently jarring in its sexual torque. Not sure who Jen George is, but she'll be legendary if she keeps making books (though I could also picture her as a filmmaker or conceptual artist).
Profile Image for Nate D.
1,578 reviews984 followers
May 24, 2017
An awkward familiarity, a dismally accurate assessment of contemporary moments, surrealized into the generality and iconic signs of a dream. There's a kind of oneiric illogic to the actual synopsis at times as well, but George integrates these moments into total naturalness. I get a bit of that nagging 'Is this how my era will be remembered?' sensation, to which the answers may be 'Yes' and 'It is deserved'.

As a debut work, this is an extremely impressive one. (It would be impressive as a work by an established author, but instead just think of what's to come. Of course, sometimes debuts turn out to be most pure and vital, but these feel like a launch into something essential.) While obviously directed more to the female experience of contemporary life/work/art/parenting/etc, I found them pretty relatable anyway. Each story traces similar patterns of dysfunctional world/life relationship but the specifics and contexts of each make give them their own power and relevance, and each becomes wholly memorable as its own piece (it helps in this that they're mostly on the longer and more-fully-realized side than a typical story, and in fact this might be best characterized as a collection of novellas.
Profile Image for Jeff Jackson.
Author 4 books465 followers
November 21, 2022
Funny, horrifying, inventive. Life as a glittering sewer you wish you could afford.
4.5 stars.
Profile Image for Monica Westin.
23 reviews29 followers
October 2, 2016
Brilliant sentence by sentence; provocative story by story; and repetitive and one-note as a collection.
Profile Image for Polly Kertis.
41 reviews6 followers
September 10, 2016
This book grabbed me right away with its strange little hands and did not let go. The combinations of darkness and light, high-brow art stuff and scatology, horror and humor were just the right fit for me. Reminded me of Miranda July and David Lynch and Tim Heidecker/Eric Wareheim.
Profile Image for Jim.
Author 22 books277 followers
October 7, 2016
Jen George's characters are mired in depravity and dissolution disguised as desire. Impossible situations, gallows humor and fondness for catalogs bring Stanley Crawford's Log of the S.S. Mrs. Unguentine to mind. I kept seeing the scenes as they might appear in a painting by John Terahteeff where beautiful figures languish as violence lurks.

Profile Image for Jaclyn.
Author 53 books551 followers
February 21, 2017
Such surreal, weird and wonderful short stories. If you're a fan of Heti, Ball, Kleeman, July, Kang and Schiff then you need to encounter Jen George. I only wish the first story, Guidance / The Party, appeared later in the collection.
January 12, 2022
It was interesting. Very weirdly written. Felt like a fever dream. Honest, vulgar and dark. Good themes. Probably not great for the light hearted or sensitive souls.
163 reviews
July 5, 2019
Unusual, alien of a book. I think I liked it
Profile Image for Rachel B. Glaser.
Author 10 books132 followers
June 11, 2018
Bravo to Jen George who writes with irreverent freedom and does what she wants! At times, these stories reminded me of Jane Bowles and Lucinella by Lore Segal, but mostly George writes like herself, exploring the bizarre, the erotic, the tragic--the random human mess. These stories aren't for everyone, and there are gratuitous moments, and sometimes a feeling of being stuck in a beautiful, deadly lagoon, but I found this book inspiring, especially the first story, and can't wait to read more from her.
Profile Image for Emma Davey.
51 reviews1 follower
December 31, 2021
definitely weird! I guess overall these stories could be interpreted as a commentary on the bizarre nature of being a woman in the modern world but some of it was also just weird! it did make me laugh though, and I can honestly say that I've never read anything like it!
Profile Image for Peter McCambridge.
Author 20 books49 followers
May 2, 2018
This is ok. I don't know, I think we go into every piece of contemporary fiction expecting each book to be a) a modern classic and b) completely different to anything we've ever read before. This book in particular grates because it's lauded for being so different to everything else that's out there when you can't turn round at the minute without hitting a book that has the same style and themes. It’s been done before. It reads like a McSweeney's piece that drags on for too long. Although I'm not entirely sure that's a fair way to judge it.
Profile Image for David.
776 reviews1 follower
March 31, 2018
In these evil and weird times I am sometimes at a loss to know what sort of art / film / literature can even really talk back and comment upon the very weird and the so evil. Some of the stories here show a way forward with it. Surreal in places, always disorienting, frequently crass in ways that are not mere shock but rather communicate the deeper emptiness of America Now. Often really funny, too.

Jen George is a talent with something to say.
Profile Image for Danielle.
11 reviews
September 7, 2018
4.5 stars

Each story felt like being inside someone else’s dream, but I could feel the hints of reality that the author was analyzing, commenting on, being cynical/sarcastic/humorous about, and I think that was the best part.
945 reviews12 followers
March 23, 2020
i suppose the barthelme comparisons are apt, but with insight focused on the nastiness of patriarchy and a much less evasive handling of sex.
Profile Image for Jessica Potter.
28 reviews3 followers
August 31, 2020
Strange with a sense of familiarity, sometimes even made me lol. The last story is my least favorite and loses me at points but overall this was an amazing time.
Profile Image for Cammi.
59 reviews158 followers
December 23, 2022
absurd book, stressed me out and made me nauseous
Profile Image for anna.
347 reviews
January 10, 2019
first two stories were too amazing that the rest can't keep up
Profile Image for Jenny Chisnell.
17 reviews6 followers
October 3, 2019
A quick read. A WEIRD one! Absurdly surreal, yet containing its own uncanny internal logic. I absolutely loved it, but I think this book is--not simply "not for everyone," but, rather--not really for MANY at ALL. Lol. Try the first 10 pages or so to get a sense of the style and see if you can handle it ^_^ (Note: is highly pornographic to the point of repulsiveness. Think Burroughs through a female lens? Again: couldn't put it down, myself...)
Profile Image for Chris.
Author 1 book19 followers
February 22, 2022
These stories are surreal, creepy fun. There's spatterings of meaning all over them, but done with a hand of broad parody and nonsense. Solidly recommended.
Profile Image for Amy.
912 reviews55 followers
October 27, 2016
This book maintains a tone of total absurdity and anxiety stemming from being a woman. Here's a passage that I found particularly hilarious, and unfortunately very close to the truth:


"I'm not sure how I should act," The Host confides to a guest's child as they wait for the bathroom. The Host had not anticipated children and has no appropriate activities or distractions for the child, but has hopes the child, a boy, may be able to get her a job in fifteen to twenty years.
"Me either," the guest's child tells her.
"But especially now," The Host says.

Anyway, the first story was my favorite, but the overall vibe continues throughout the book.
Profile Image for Ethan.
20 reviews
November 18, 2019
Masturbation, sex, assholes, fucking, cake, failure, death and dying. These are the ingredients of Jen George’s stories as they appear in the young writer’s debut collection. At their best (“The Babysitter at Rest”) they present an entertaining fantasy world where funny and bad things happen. At their worst, they are essentially garbage. Didn’t finish.
Profile Image for Heather.
15 reviews15 followers
November 15, 2016
I laughed, but I didn't cry. I did feel despair!

No, I am not sticking my head in the oven to check on dinner.
Displaying 1 - 30 of 118 reviews

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