Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Belated Reading of George Saunders

As an American who's lived in Taiwan nearly a decade, I sometimes feel a disconnect from what's going on back in the States. That I spend only a handful of days in America each year doesn't help much either. My country seems to be getting weirder all the time--ever more unhinged with each passing climatically altered season. Is what I see maybe just America's true colors beginning to bleed in the general heat and mayhem? I hope not. Is it possibly just me that's gotten weirder? Many would argue that it's so--but then, they make their arguments from right there in the Belly of the Beast, so how can they be expected to judge?

Recently again I managed to spend some time back in the Homeland's Secure Embrace. While there I picked up a copy of George Saunders' CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. The tales in this collection proved to be the perfect reading to help a confused and overly liberal expat like myself readjust. Saunders writes the best and most American dystopian satire I've read.

Of course in the real America the Wendy's aren't yet burnt out shells, the WalMarts aren't occupied by teen militias, and the theme parks aren't as horribly elaborate as the ones in Saunders. But we're getting there. A bit more unhinging and it'll all fall into place. Saunders' America is only the current America with the volume turned up.

The familiar idiom of these tales--the sales pitches, self-improvement jargon and confident self-justifications of the myriad scammers one meets--gives them an immediate truth entirely lacking from the State of the Union Address which I also, very forgettably, took in during my time home. I certainly wish I could write like Saunders. [The closest I've come might be here.]

Saunders published CivilWarLand in 1996. The perfect pitch of the collection makes me eager to read what this master satirist has penned since the dawn of our New Millennium. I've only read one recent tale in The New Yorker, which showed Saunders in the same brilliant high fever and which led me to pick up CivilWarLand in the first place. I believe that tale was entitled "CommComm."

As the Library Journal review put it: "Saunders' surreal depiction of a bleak future for the country is both startling and believable. Here's hoping he is not a prophet." In the strict sense of the word prophet--namely, one who warns of pending disaster unless people mends their ways--Saunders is already one. And a trenchant one too. I absolutely recommend CivilWarLand--available while there are still books.

February 2006 (initial posting)

Check CivilWarLand in Bad Decline at Amazon.com

That was 2006. I’ve since read his other recent collections, also impossibly funny and brilliant:

Pastoralia at Amazon.com

In Persuasion Nation at Amazon.com

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