Friday, February 26, 2010

Leyner and Saunders: Two Kinds of Edge

Mark Leyner and George Saunders are the premier American satirists of the recent two decades. They are right on target in terms of what they intend to send up, and they are a riot to read: they both consistently make me laugh out loud.

There are striking differences between the two however. One difference I discovered recently is that I can maybe reread Leyner once or twice, whereas the best of Saunders' work I can return to repeatedly. Why is this?

Whereas Leyner's work is driven by cynicism, Saunders is the rare case of a razor-sharp satirist driven as much by cynicism as by warmth. This makes Saunders, for me, the greater writer. It is also, I think, the reason Saunders can capture the American idiom (the voices of different classes, professions, generations) in a way Leyner can't.

Leyner's character Mark in his novel The Tetherballs of Bougainville is a teenager only in a very conscribed Leyneresque way: it is hilarious, brilliant writing, but Mark, like Mark's dad, are both more or less Leyner himself slightly refracted. Take a Saunders story, on the other hand--"Pastoralia," or "CommComm," or the amazing Huck-inspired "Bounty"--and each character is a wonder of suffering linguistic specificity; they are palpable to the point you can see their hands gesture and feel their facial expressions as they speak.

Leyner offers off-the-wall, trenchant literary hijinks of a high order. Saunders is something different. Saunders is almost a matter of the miraculous.

Best of the Best:

Saunders: CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

Saunders: Pastoralia

Leyner: The Tetherballs of Bougainville

Leyner: My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist

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