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The stories In Persuasion Nation are easily his best work yet. "The Red Bow,"about a town consumed by pet-killing hysteria, won a 2004 National Magazine Award and "Bohemians," the story of two supposed Eastern European widows trying to fit in in suburban USA, is included in The Best American Short Stories 2005. His new book includes both unpublished work, and stories that The stories In Persuasion Nation are easily his best work yet. "The Red Bow,"about a town consumed by pet-killing hysteria, won a 2004 National Magazine Award and "Bohemians," the story of two supposed Eastern European widows trying to fit in in suburban USA, is included in The Best American Short Stories 2005. His new book includes both unpublished work, and stories that first appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, and Esquire. The stories in this volume work together as a whole whose impact far exceeds the simple sum of its parts. Fans of Saunders know and love him for his sharp and hilarious satirical eye. But In Persuasion Nation also includes more personal and poignant pieces that reveal a new kind of emotional conviction in Saunders's writing. Saunders's work in the last six years has come to be recognized as one of the strongest-and most consoling-cries in the wilderness of the millennium's political and cultural malaise. In Persuasion Nation's sophistication and populism should establish Saunders once and for all as this generation's literary voice of wisdom and humor in a time when we need it most.


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The stories In Persuasion Nation are easily his best work yet. "The Red Bow,"about a town consumed by pet-killing hysteria, won a 2004 National Magazine Award and "Bohemians," the story of two supposed Eastern European widows trying to fit in in suburban USA, is included in The Best American Short Stories 2005. His new book includes both unpublished work, and stories that The stories In Persuasion Nation are easily his best work yet. "The Red Bow,"about a town consumed by pet-killing hysteria, won a 2004 National Magazine Award and "Bohemians," the story of two supposed Eastern European widows trying to fit in in suburban USA, is included in The Best American Short Stories 2005. His new book includes both unpublished work, and stories that first appeared in The New Yorker, Harper's, and Esquire. The stories in this volume work together as a whole whose impact far exceeds the simple sum of its parts. Fans of Saunders know and love him for his sharp and hilarious satirical eye. But In Persuasion Nation also includes more personal and poignant pieces that reveal a new kind of emotional conviction in Saunders's writing. Saunders's work in the last six years has come to be recognized as one of the strongest-and most consoling-cries in the wilderness of the millennium's political and cultural malaise. In Persuasion Nation's sophistication and populism should establish Saunders once and for all as this generation's literary voice of wisdom and humor in a time when we need it most.

30 review for In Persuasion Nation

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paquita Maria Sanchez

    Not my favorite Saunders, though to be clear, my rating is specifically on a Saunders scale rather than a "compared to all other short story books" type of thing. That may or not be fair (okay, it's not), but it can't really be helped after you've spent enough time with a particular author. Though I enjoyed a few of these quite a bit, the collection as a whole felt like more of a chore than any other collection of his that I've read. In fact, I usually find Saunders to be especially not impatien Not my favorite Saunders, though to be clear, my rating is specifically on a Saunders scale rather than a "compared to all other short story books" type of thing. That may or not be fair (okay, it's not), but it can't really be helped after you've spent enough time with a particular author. Though I enjoyed a few of these quite a bit, the collection as a whole felt like more of a chore than any other collection of his that I've read. In fact, I usually find Saunders to be especially not impatience-inducing, but by the time this one was over, I have to admit I was kind of relieved. By far the funniest story in the collection is I CAN SPEAK!, which is somewhat unfortunately placed as story #1, and sets an expectation of tone to the collection which doesn't follow through. Also, a lot of the symbolism is clobbering even for Saunders, such as the "Green False God" in the titular story, though that is admittedly the most severe example. Now let us praise. Again, I CAN SPEAK! is easily one of my favorite Saunders stories for sheer comedic value alone. The Red Bow and Adams are two pretty excellent examples of suburban helplessness and hysteria, of how people become trapped in their tiny little social worlds in their neighborhoods or at their low-wage, tedious and unfulfilling jobs, and in-fight rather than directing their aggressions upward and outward to their various, actual sources. Brad Carrigan, American is just the sort of ass-shredding that reality television calls for, highlighting the small-minded, barbaric tendency of Western audiences to revel in spectacle and delight at the misfortunes of others. Saunders pushes this already out of control concept of Voyeur Porn to extremes. Ya know, like he does. On Final Twist, five college friends take a sixth to an expensive Italian restaurant, supposedly to introduce him to a hot girl, actually to break the news that his mother is dead. This is the InitialTwist. During dessert they are told that, in fact, all of their mothers are dead. This is the SecondTwist. The ThirdTwist is, not only are all their mothers dead, the show paid to have them killed, and the fourth and FinalTwist is, the kids have just eaten their own grilled mothers. This isn't the first book I would recommend to a Saunders newbie, but it certainly has its moments. One thing I would kinda snipe at is how, at least for me, the most engaging stories were generally the shorter ones, while those I felt less invested in tended to drag a little. I liked it okay, but it's no CivilWarLand....is my opinion which I'm placing right here in the opinion place.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Ryan Chapman

    George Saunders is like The Onion for the literati. He's hilarious, to be sure, but also capable of parsing the 9/11 reaction by the U.S. in a brilliant five-page allegory. George Saunders is like The Onion for the literati. He's hilarious, to be sure, but also capable of parsing the 9/11 reaction by the U.S. in a brilliant five-page allegory.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    George Saunders is known for his surrealism and In Persuasion Nation is him at his wackiest. He examines topics like consumerism and marketing, pushing them to their extremes. His stories often make me laugh at their ridiculousness but then I start to think that maybe our society is not so far removed from the crazy scenarios he dreams up. I've always admired his wild imagination, but I must admit that some of these tales tested my patience. The title story is an extended riff on advertising that George Saunders is known for his surrealism and In Persuasion Nation is him at his wackiest. He examines topics like consumerism and marketing, pushing them to their extremes. His stories often make me laugh at their ridiculousness but then I start to think that maybe our society is not so far removed from the crazy scenarios he dreams up. I've always admired his wild imagination, but I must admit that some of these tales tested my patience. The title story is an extended riff on advertising that goes on for too long. Brad Carrigan, American is a satire of television and the desperation it can sink to in attracting viewers - it's another one that outstays its welcome in my opinion. I preferred the collection's more grounded efforts. In Bohemians, a boy talks about two Eastern European women who survived the Holocaust to end up living in Chicago, and how his opinion of each of them changed over time. In CommComm a man struggles to handle a work crisis and comes home every day to talk to the spirits of his dead parents. It's a sad account of grief and not being able to let go of a loved one. But my favourite story was The Red Bow. It involves a small community where pets have turned rabid and it's narrated by a man whose young daughter has been killed by a neighbour's dog. He talks about his surprise at seeing his layabout brother taking charge of the situation and his gratitude at the deep respect shown to his family at the Village Meeting. What moved me most of all was his heartbreaking memory of carrying his child's lifeless body into the house, already regretting the things he never had the chance to tell her: "God there is so much I don't remember about that night but one thing I do remember is, as I brought her in, one of her little clogs thunked off onto the linoleum, and still holding her I bent down to--and she wasn't there anymore, she wasn't, you know, there, there inside her body. I had passed her thousands of times on the steps, in the kitchen, had heard her little voice from everywhere in the house and why, why had I not, every single time, rushed up to her and told her everything that I--but of course you can't do that, it would malform a child, and yet--" So I think what I'm saying is, I can appreciate the stories of George Saunders better when there is something about them that moves me in some way. Shining a light on the absurdities of consumer culture doesn't always strike a chord with me but using ghosts of dead relatives to explore grief in a novel way - that's something that touches my heart and mind. I suppose that's why I loved Lincoln in the Bardo so much, and I am eagerly awaiting his next book.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Mattia Ravasi

    Video Review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFxG_... #14 in my Top 20 Books I Read in 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIWkw... Featured in my Top 5 George Saunders Books: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Bc7g... An amazingly colorful short story collection on the dangers and absurdities of modern consumer society. Some stories are heartwarming and uplifting - like, tearjerking uplifting; some are mercilessly cruel; some are borderline disturbing; none is long or strong enough to mar the fun Video Review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MFxG_... #14 in my Top 20 Books I Read in 2015: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zIWkw... Featured in my Top 5 George Saunders Books: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Bc7g... An amazingly colorful short story collection on the dangers and absurdities of modern consumer society. Some stories are heartwarming and uplifting - like, tearjerking uplifting; some are mercilessly cruel; some are borderline disturbing; none is long or strong enough to mar the fun you have with this book. Which is the kind of uncomfortable fun you get from a Family Guy episode - you know, one of the good ones. One of the best contemporary collections I've read.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Leo Robertson

    Just through my love of Saunders, I noticed that I read this book again by periodically reading these stories during work breaks. "The Red Bow" is particularly chilling, and during a dull meeting recently I thought about it and I was like 'Ohhh do you think it's a metaphor for AIDS? The red bow! That the only apparent way to eliminate the disease- during that time when the disease was idiopathic and only gay people seemed to have it- was to eliminate gay people themselves? And didn't that happen Just through my love of Saunders, I noticed that I read this book again by periodically reading these stories during work breaks. "The Red Bow" is particularly chilling, and during a dull meeting recently I thought about it and I was like 'Ohhh do you think it's a metaphor for AIDS? The red bow! That the only apparent way to eliminate the disease- during that time when the disease was idiopathic and only gay people seemed to have it- was to eliminate gay people themselves? And didn't that happen in a less active way than occurs in the story? But it's about all fearmongering- which, as Saunders points out, isn't necessarily performed because of flawed logic, but a rather extremist solution. Making a Murderer might be yet another recent example of this. "Jon", as well, is like a hyperintelligent YA dystopia in its own right, and delivers a beautiful message: what a privilege it is to live an ordinary life, albeit by demonstrating how many forces profit from pretending that it isn't. I have to stop reading Jonathan Franzen essays, because they're really convincing but I don't often agree with them- which you might argue is a good thing, but I just end up confused. The last I read, 'Perchance to Dream', suggested that readers weren't better people- just a peculiar breed with peculiar needs. I think he's changed his tune with his recent opposite message of 'We need new complex stories to inform us how to deal with one another.' Anyway, read this book and tell me it doesn't teach you things about human nature, whether or not you already knew them in some inarticulated visceral way? What a gift it is! First review: Not necessarily because every story is perfect, but that some achieve an incisive perfection in their astute deconstruction of American culture (we can enjoy the deconstruction of a culture we're not part of.) Laughter, gasps and extended oooohhhhhhs. The great thing about these stories, as Saunders himself has professed, is that he learned to love all his characters, else there is no story. In this way, he is able to sympathise with everyone almost until there is no villain, which is great because his message can evolve from an easy, simple "America is corporate evil!" to "What a mess this is. How did we all get here?" One thing I will say is that it's kinda sad how limited Saunders' form is- the only other book of his I read is Tenth of December, which also contained oddly-named patented pharmaceuticals/ drug trials and stories written in the form of e-mails/ formal business letters. If I'd read Tenth of December afterwards, I might have thought that he'd somehow subtracted from the power of these stories by introducing a 'Yeah yeah, here he goes again with this' element to his portfolio. But whatever. This book is great!

  6. 4 out of 5

    Jessica

    I'm sure this has been said before, but Madison Avenue suffered a grave loss when this guy decided to go into fiction. I really enjoyed all the stories in the first, ad-themed section, but it's sort of been on a gentle downhill from there. Some of these -- like "The Red Ribbon," the only one I'd read before -- got too message-y for me. Still, I'm liking it. I've been embarrassed in public when it's been revealed that I'm the only one of my friends who has never read George Saunders. I guess this I'm sure this has been said before, but Madison Avenue suffered a grave loss when this guy decided to go into fiction. I really enjoyed all the stories in the first, ad-themed section, but it's sort of been on a gentle downhill from there. Some of these -- like "The Red Ribbon," the only one I'd read before -- got too message-y for me. Still, I'm liking it. I've been embarrassed in public when it's been revealed that I'm the only one of my friends who has never read George Saunders. I guess this oversight is because somehow, despite being an unoriginal cliche of a bourgie coastal-dweller with a liberal arts education that ill-prepared me for my job but which saddled me with inescapable intellectual pretensions, I only got around to subscribing to The New Yorker a few months ago. Apparently George Saunders publishes a lot in The New Yorker, as demonstrated by the fact that when I got home tonight after a day traveling around reading him, I found that he'd written the story in this week's issue. Apparently it's raining George Saunders! There are worse things.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Ryandake

    some books, i don't really know what to say, except that i know genius when i read it. this book of short stories gives a person more to think about life than a rack full of self-help books. Saunders is telling us crucial things about contemporary life in some funny, bitter, outrageous, out-there ways that (at least to my limited skill) defy description. i guess the most accurate thing i can say about his work is that each story is like a zen koan--just when you think you've got a grip on it, it m some books, i don't really know what to say, except that i know genius when i read it. this book of short stories gives a person more to think about life than a rack full of self-help books. Saunders is telling us crucial things about contemporary life in some funny, bitter, outrageous, out-there ways that (at least to my limited skill) defy description. i guess the most accurate thing i can say about his work is that each story is like a zen koan--just when you think you've got a grip on it, it morphs into something deeper, and you find yourself at square one, rethinking the whole experience. if you're looking for some Raymond Carver-esque read, in which there is probably one identifiable epiphany per story and you can put a finger on it, this is not the book for you. Saunders is more squirrelly than that, and definitely weirder. but if you're after an experience that will stick with you for years, Saunders is your man. (one story in this book, "Jon," has been pestering me since 2003). he's a master. at what, exactly, i don't think i can say. but i defy you to walk away from his work unaffected, failing to see our world in a new and often deeply unnerving light.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Ed Erwin

    There should be a special place in Hades for whoever approved the tiny font in this book. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed most of these stories. Many of them could be published as Science Fiction. But since Saunders is a "MacArthur Genius" he can publish in more high-brow places like New Yorker. The combination of experimental style with cynicism about our consumer society gets me right where I live. There should be a special place in Hades for whoever approved the tiny font in this book. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed most of these stories. Many of them could be published as Science Fiction. But since Saunders is a "MacArthur Genius" he can publish in more high-brow places like New Yorker. The combination of experimental style with cynicism about our consumer society gets me right where I live.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Yulia

    He has cute ideas, but he drags them on to the point where they simply become annoying and boring. Reading him is like choosing one food to eat on a deserted island for the rest of your life. Good luck. Is he a cutting social satirist? I would look elsewhere.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Maggie

    Last week I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I was supposed to have spent my summer tracking down supplementary readings for a unit on media manipulation, but as of two days before my due date I hadn't found one single thing. Honestly, I hadn't even bothered to try. In short, I was screwed. Fortunately, a friend came to my rescue by suggesting In Persuasion Nation, a collection of short stories by George Saunders, and it proved perfect for my needs. (And thank God I can read a book in a day. W Last week I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I was supposed to have spent my summer tracking down supplementary readings for a unit on media manipulation, but as of two days before my due date I hadn't found one single thing. Honestly, I hadn't even bothered to try. In short, I was screwed. Fortunately, a friend came to my rescue by suggesting In Persuasion Nation, a collection of short stories by George Saunders, and it proved perfect for my needs. (And thank God I can read a book in a day. Way to cut things close, me.) I wasn't planning on reviewing this book since I read it for work, however I really enjoyed it, and so what the heck - we're mixing work with pleasure over here today. The cover of In Persuasion Nation depicts a man leaning over to sniff the solitary flower standing in the center of a wasteland - an appropriate image for a collection of stories whose protagonists are often searching for something real, pure and true in a plastic world that values consumerism over humanity. Often humorous, rather quirky and usually disturbing, Saunders' stories serve as a sort of protest of our corporate culture, warning what we very well may one day become if we choose to continue on our current path. The heroes in these stories are the misfits of this modern world. There's Brad, whose life is a sitcom which he is in danger of being written off of once he finds he can no longer continue smiling along with the laugh track, ignoring the world's ills. In the title story, an army of frustrated characters from smug television commercials rise up and refuse to continue being humiliated while hawking Ding-Dongs, Mac and Cheese and Doritos. And, in what I thought was the best story of the lot, there's Jon, an orphan who's spent nearly his entire life as a member of a product focus group, knowing no other way of communicating his feelings but through advertisements. While some of these stories succeed better than others, the overall collection proves timely, affecting, inventive and highly entertaining. Like the best satirists, Saunders is thought-provoking, but with heart. Fans of Vonnegut and Pynchon should approve.

  11. 4 out of 5

    pepe abola

    hypothetically, george saunders is an author i should like. he is unabashedly progressive, very experimental, and witty. also, i loved pretty much everything in "pastoralia." two years ago when i was in graduate school, i held him in the highest esteem, seeing him as something of a descendant of one of my favorites, donald barthelme (yes i am a snobby snob snob snob). anyhow. this book thoroughly disappointed me. the great stories in it, less than half, were great stories. the rest were all faile hypothetically, george saunders is an author i should like. he is unabashedly progressive, very experimental, and witty. also, i loved pretty much everything in "pastoralia." two years ago when i was in graduate school, i held him in the highest esteem, seeing him as something of a descendant of one of my favorites, donald barthelme (yes i am a snobby snob snob snob). anyhow. this book thoroughly disappointed me. the great stories in it, less than half, were great stories. the rest were all failed experiments, hitting you over the head with their premise and politics. i wouldn't even call some of them stories, they were more like experiments that just play out without any change really happening. good stories include "the red bow," "christmas," and "adams." and this handful, part ii of the collection are great great stories, with characters you can really feel and the humor never overwhelming the plot. also, "bohemians," which is at the end of the book. decent stories are "commcomm" and "my flamboyant grandson," which was really cute despite its overly done spam pop-up window walking down the street concept. everything else i struggled to get through or didn't get through at all. believe me i tried. but it just pissed me off. i hate being disappointed by a writer i really like.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Abby

    “What America is, to me, is a guy doesn’t want to buy, you let him not buy, you respect his not buying. A guy has a crazy notion different from your crazy notion, you pat him on the back and say, Hey pal, nice crazy notion, let’s go have a beer. America, to me, should be shouting all the time, a bunch of shouting voices, most of them wrong, some of them nuts, but please, not just one droning glamorous reasonable voice.” (From the story "My Flamboyant Grandson") Brilliant and weird and funny and m “What America is, to me, is a guy doesn’t want to buy, you let him not buy, you respect his not buying. A guy has a crazy notion different from your crazy notion, you pat him on the back and say, Hey pal, nice crazy notion, let’s go have a beer. America, to me, should be shouting all the time, a bunch of shouting voices, most of them wrong, some of them nuts, but please, not just one droning glamorous reasonable voice.” (From the story "My Flamboyant Grandson") Brilliant and weird and funny and meticulously executed. This is such a delightful collection. Not as beloved, in my mind, as The Tenth of December, but here we have all of the characteristic blend of quasi-sci-fi American-life criticism, poignant family dramas shown from odd angles, and that biting and somehow wise wit. Favorite stories: "My Flamboyant Grandson" "Jon" "Christmas" "Adams" "The Red Bow"

  13. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Smith

    George Saunders seems to have made a pretty solid career for himself by skewering the massively weird and distant ways we consume goods (and by goods here I mean history and information as well as pre-packed food dreck). After reading his last few books I admit I was a little worried for George--it seemed like he had found a good basic situation in CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia, mostly the struggle to remain authentically human in a themepark simulation of the real world. These are George Saunders seems to have made a pretty solid career for himself by skewering the massively weird and distant ways we consume goods (and by goods here I mean history and information as well as pre-packed food dreck). After reading his last few books I admit I was a little worried for George--it seemed like he had found a good basic situation in CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia, mostly the struggle to remain authentically human in a themepark simulation of the real world. These are great stories and I'm glad somebody wrote them, but with his obvious talent for incisive cultural observation, it seemed a little disappointing to watch him reiterate a particular plotline. So, In Persuasion Nation is a new iteration of similar ideas, which is great. Saunders is a realist in the hyper- sense: as much as these stories may read as farce/science fiction, they're uncomfortably true to the climate of now. (Sometimes the hyper-real voices, likes and ums and weird grammar all together, begin to grate across a few stories. It's a small complaint but worth noting.) And anyway, I can only read so many stories about quiet, mid-life, midwestern desperation. By the way, if you're interested in hyper-real fiction, you may want to check the Believer for an article a few months back on Doctorow's oscillating ideas about what level of representation constitutes "the real" in fiction.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Bennard

    originally posted on The Short Story Station “What America is, to me, is a guy doesn’t want to buy, you let him not buy, you respect his not buying. A guy has a crazy notion different from your crazy notion, you pat him on the back and say, Hey pal, nice crazy notion, let’s go have a beer. America, to me, should be shouting all the time, a bunch of shouting voices, most of them wrong, some of them nuts, but please, not just one droning glamorous reasonable voice.” – Leonard Petrillo, ‘My Flamboya originally posted on The Short Story Station “What America is, to me, is a guy doesn’t want to buy, you let him not buy, you respect his not buying. A guy has a crazy notion different from your crazy notion, you pat him on the back and say, Hey pal, nice crazy notion, let’s go have a beer. America, to me, should be shouting all the time, a bunch of shouting voices, most of them wrong, some of them nuts, but please, not just one droning glamorous reasonable voice.” – Leonard Petrillo, ‘My Flamboyant Grandson’ There are certain storytellers who craft stories set in places or times that are unfamiliar yet eerily close to our own surroundings. There are just one or two distinct and important differences that separates the real from the fiction. Such worlds provide us with insight on what can happen and terrifies us with its possibility. Imagine a world where you can be erased from existence just because you are inconsequential to the world at large just like in Steven Millhauser’s ‘Vanishing Acts'; a world where a thirty-five year old man can pass for a toddler and no one will suspect a thing just like in Donald Barthelme’s ‘Me and Miss Mandible'; or a world where clones are both a source of slave labor and something else entirely sinister just like the Somni-451 chapters in David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas. Terrifying, isn’t it, if the stories of such writers are actually prophetic. Woe to us if they’re not only imaginative but also clairvoyant. George Saunders is one such writer. His stories are always set in the near future where capitalism and vanity is the guiding principle everywhere and who you are in a society is either based on how you look or how much money you have in your possession. Here’s a review of Saunders’ Tenth of December from The Rumpus’ Kevin Thomas: Indeed, woe unto us if and when his world becomes ours. Such is the case with every short story collection written by George Saunders. Case in point is In Persuasion Nation, the book that I will be reviewing, published last 2006 and contains 12 short stories about a world gone mad with capitalism and a world where fascistic persecution is not only acceptable but also a requirement of everyday life. It is a terrifying world where there is an obvious evil lingering above the lives of the people. Most of the stories are set in the near future while the rest are set in the present but accompanied by absurd details that is almost whimsical if not for its frightening ramifications. Of the 12 stories in the collection, five stood out (although all were excellent pieces of literature). These are: ‘Jon’, ‘The Red Bow’, ‘Brad Carrigan, American’, ‘In Persuasion Nation’, and ‘CommComm’. It comes as no surprise then that the reason that they are favorites is because all of them except ‘The Red Bow’ have protagonists that goes against the tyrants who oppress them in their stories. In ‘Jon’, the protagonist rejects a life of celebrity and affluence to pursue a great love; In ‘Brad Carrigan, American’, the protagonist sacrifices himself in order to fight for what he thinks is right; in ‘In Persuasion Nation’, a group of characters who live a repetitive cycle of TV commercials goes against the script and their programming to go against a culture of violence and greed; while ‘CommComm’ features the most heartwarming ending in all of the stories that I have read that is written by George Saunders. ‘The Red Bow’, on the other hand, lacks a kind-hearted and empathetic character but is one of my favorites because of how horrible and close to reality it is. Yes, ‘The Red Bow’ is also funny, as all of Saunders’ story are, but this one just felt real. In Persuasion Nation is a book with insight into the world. Yes, it’s a terrifying world that is swiftly becoming closer to ours with each passing day. But there’s always a bright side and that there will always be people who will go against the grain in order to rebel against tyranny and make sure that the world is not a truly horrible place to live in. This, I believe, is one of the driving factors behind Saunders’ genius. That his world becomes more terrifying with every collection that he releases but it also becomes more clear in its call for compassion. George Saunders is a writer who gets better with every book that he writes. Clearly, I should prepare myself for the assured beauty that is Tenth of December. But, since I don’t have a copy yet of Saunders’ latest, I am content in reliving the joy in reading this achievement of a collection and in glimpsing the truth that it wishes to convey.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Josh Friedlander

    After a long recess, I’m currently getting back into some fiction... George Saunders is all over lately with his first novel having just come out. Although I happily concede that there is no coherent argument for genre fiction having any lesser stature vs. the 'literary' kind, I just don't like the bulk of it, and seeing the term 'science fiction' bandied about in reviews of Mr Saunders' work had at first kept me away. But his style is more like science-augmented reality, or plain old surrealism After a long recess, I’m currently getting back into some fiction... George Saunders is all over lately with his first novel having just come out. Although I happily concede that there is no coherent argument for genre fiction having any lesser stature vs. the 'literary' kind, I just don't like the bulk of it, and seeing the term 'science fiction' bandied about in reviews of Mr Saunders' work had at first kept me away. But his style is more like science-augmented reality, or plain old surrealism. These stories are about the real world, until a point - where a comically exaggerated extrapolation of our world bulges out. They are odd, leading us into a familiar room, then pointing out that the mat beneath our feet is a talking robot. Saunders' characters are unmistakably American, and his love for his countrymen with all their foibles is as evident here as it was in his reporting for the New Yorker from “Trump country”. The stories generally follow simple-minded, struggling characters, whose bumbling leads to circumstances first comic, then tragic. (This formula obtains for basically the whole book, which very slightly diminishes the power of the collection.) His eye is gentle and forgiving, his protagonists loving fools who seek only to pursue their unique versions of happiness, but in that pursuit encounter credit card debt, confusing bureaucracy, and mandatory consumption of advertisements. Advertising comes under Saunders’ klieg light the most. Behind the gimlet-eyed surreality, and a critique of passive reality TV culture that echoes David Foster Wallace, one finds here a somewhat Tolstoyan call for kindness as the supreme virtue - a sense that, though culture and country may have gone astray and bowed to the narcissistic irrationality, still, as long as we persist, there will be a way back.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Justin Evans

    I like that every reviewer says this collection is uneven, and then everyone goes on to list different stories as the good ones. It is uneven. My two cents: the more 'experimental' the story in this collection is, the better it is. The whole "looks cynical and ironic... looks a little less cynical... turns out to have a real heart beneath the irony... oh my god I'm in tears" thing only works if you don't jump straight to the tears as we do in 'Christmas', and only works if you don't skip the rea I like that every reviewer says this collection is uneven, and then everyone goes on to list different stories as the good ones. It is uneven. My two cents: the more 'experimental' the story in this collection is, the better it is. The whole "looks cynical and ironic... looks a little less cynical... turns out to have a real heart beneath the irony... oh my god I'm in tears" thing only works if you don't jump straight to the tears as we do in 'Christmas', and only works if you don't skip the real heart and tears as in 'My Amendment.' According to these criteria, 'My Flamboyant Grandson,' 'Jon,' 'Brad Carrigan,' and 'In Persuasion Nation' are the better stories. Some of the others are solid. Some of them would never have been published if the author didn't have a reputation for doing the cynical-tears slide ('Bohemians' and 'Adams' both tell us that, shock!, things aren't always as they appear). It's also interesting to see Saunders trying to expand the shtick a bit by sorting these stories into sections that supposedly have themes in common. To a certain extent they do; but not always. I'd really like to read a book of actually linked Saunders stories. More remarkable still, I only just realized that Saunders publishes in the New Yorker all the time. That's like finding out that Ben Roethlisberger's real job is playing linebacker for the Ravens. Please, George, can't you find a different magazine?

  17. 5 out of 5

    Drew

    In Persuasion Nation's stories' main concern here, at least with most of the stories, seems to be the increasingly blurred line between advertising and regular life. One story's about a reality show that contains its own commercials; another is actually about the characters in commercials (specifically the schlemiels, the ones who always lose out). And most of it comes off as really absurd, especially when you add in other Saunders mainstays like ghosts and corpses. But mostly what I've been thi In Persuasion Nation's stories' main concern here, at least with most of the stories, seems to be the increasingly blurred line between advertising and regular life. One story's about a reality show that contains its own commercials; another is actually about the characters in commercials (specifically the schlemiels, the ones who always lose out). And most of it comes off as really absurd, especially when you add in other Saunders mainstays like ghosts and corpses. But mostly what I've been thinking about since finished is whether or not Saunders's unusual world is really all that absurd, after all. I called Barnes and Noble the other day about a customer service issue, and I was made to listen to a 30 second Nook commercial before someone picked up the phone. Today I was informed by Facebook that my friend had read an interesting article, but I couldn't read that article unless I downloaded some little program that would advertise my reading preferences to my friends list. There's a pre-play video ad before every USAToday Crossword. The crossword puzzle! Advertising may not be as whimsically murderous here as it is in Persuasion Nation, but I'd argue it's nearly as pervasive. And in a few years...who can say? Advertisers don't lack the motivation; they just lack the technology.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Marc

    Favorite stories from this collection: - "I CAN SPEAK!" - "my flamboyant grandson" - "93990" - "bard carrigan, american" Saunders makes you commiserate with even the worst boss/bad guy because even they are caught up in something grander, a bigger system to which we are all subjects in one form or another. This one comes up just a tad short behind Tenth of December and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (with the latter being my favorite so far). Favorite stories from this collection: - "I CAN SPEAK!" - "my flamboyant grandson" - "93990" - "bard carrigan, american" Saunders makes you commiserate with even the worst boss/bad guy because even they are caught up in something grander, a bigger system to which we are all subjects in one form or another. This one comes up just a tad short behind Tenth of December and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline (with the latter being my favorite so far).

  19. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette (Again)

    The first 4 stories in this book are delightfully, satirically funny! They are very clever commentary on our current American lifestyle. The very last story (commcomm) has some absolutely hilarious, laugh-out-loud lines poking fun at ultra-religious people and govt. bureaucrat-speak. The rest of the book (pages 73 through 195) is mostly a waste of time and just plain stupid. I read through them hoping to find more good ones, but they were terrible, especially "93990"! The first 4 stories in this book are delightfully, satirically funny! They are very clever commentary on our current American lifestyle. The very last story (commcomm) has some absolutely hilarious, laugh-out-loud lines poking fun at ultra-religious people and govt. bureaucrat-speak. The rest of the book (pages 73 through 195) is mostly a waste of time and just plain stupid. I read through them hoping to find more good ones, but they were terrible, especially "93990"!

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jason Pettus

    (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.) I had the pleasure of getting to talk with legendary author George Saunders for CCLaP's podcast last week, a rare treat given how in demand he is on this latest tour even among the major media; but that meant I had to do some serious cramming in the few weeks leading up to our talk, in that (I guiltily con (Reprinted from the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com]. I am the original author of this essay, as well as the owner of CCLaP; it is not being reprinted illegally.) I had the pleasure of getting to talk with legendary author George Saunders for CCLaP's podcast last week, a rare treat given how in demand he is on this latest tour even among the major media; but that meant I had to do some serious cramming in the few weeks leading up to our talk, in that (I guiltily confess) I only became aware of his existence a month ago, because of a passionate recommendation from my friend and Chicago science-fiction author Mark R. Brand, with Saunders' new book, tour, and interview opportunity being merely a fortuitous coincidence. And that's because the vast majority of Saunders' output has been short stories, while regulars know that my own reading habits veer almost 100 percent to full novels, which means he's simply and unfortunately been off my radar this whole time; but of course I'm happy to make room in my life for exquisite short-fiction writers once I learn about them (see for example my revelation after reading John Cheever for the first time a few years ago), which means that I tore through all seven books now of his career in just a few weeks recently, so I thought I'd get one large essay posted here about all of them at once, instead of doing a separate small review for each book. And indeed, as I mentioned during the podcast as well, like Cheever I think Saunders' work is going to be at its most powerful once his career is over, and all the stories collected into one giant volume that a person reads all at once, instead of debating the merits of one individual collection over another. And in fact this is something else I said in the podcast, that I find it fun to think of Saunders' stories as essentially interchangeable tales in one big comic-book-style shared universe, albeit the most f-cked-up shared universe you'll ever spend time in: a possibly post-apocalyptic America, although whether through slow erosion or one big doomsday event is hard to determine, where the only businesses that still thrive are outlandish theme parks designed for the amusement of the now "natural betters" of our new Mad Max society, and staffed by the permanent class of have-nots which now includes a large population of genetically modified freaks, a place where ghosts are real and magic exists and the new normal is extreme cruelty at all times for all other humans left in the wreckage of a crumbled United States. And so if you look at the four story collections that Saunders has now put out -- 1996's CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, 2000's Pastoralia, 2006's In Persuasion Nation and this year's Tenth of December -- you'll see that the vast majority of all these pieces fit at least somewhat into the general paradigm just described, although with others that are much more realistic in tone but still with the same unbelievable cruelty and darkness, many of them set among racially tense situations in eroding post-industrial cities. Yeah, sounds like a big barrel of laughs, right? And in fact this was the biggest surprise for me as well when first reading them, that Saunders is not just on the stranger side of the bizarro* subgenre, but is one of the most wrist-slashingly depressing authors you will ever find, yet this Guggenheim and MacArthur grant winner is regularly on the bestseller lists, has appeared on David Letterman and The Daily Show, gets published on a steady basis in such hugely mainstream magazines as The New Yorker and GQ, and is adored by literally millions of fans out there, many of whom would never open the cover of a book from Eraserhead Press to save their life. And that's because Saunders never talks about these things specifically to be depressing, but rather as a way of highlighting how important simple humanity is to our lives, the simple act of being humane and optimistic about the world, which he does not by writing about the humane acts themselves but what a world without them would look like. And that's a clever and admirable thing to do, because it means he sneaks in sideways to the points he wants to make, not beating us over the head but forcing us to really stop and think about what he's truly trying to say, to examine why we get so upset when this fundamental humanity is missing from the stories we're reading. Ultimately Saunders believes in celebrating life, in trying to be as helpful and open-minded to strangers as you can, in being as positive about the world at large as you can stand; but like the Existentialists of Mid-Century Modernism, he examines this subject by looking at worst-case scenarios, and by showing us what exactly we miss out of in life when this positivity and love is gone. *(For those who are new to CCLaP, "bizarro" is a hard-to-define term but one we reference here a lot; also sometimes known as "gonzo" fiction, sometimes as "The New Weird," a lot of it comes from either the wackier or more prurient edges of such existing genres as science-fiction, horror and erotica, while some of it is more like Hunter S. Thompson or William S. Burroughs, a conceptual cloud of strangeness that has a huge cult following in the world of basement presses and genre conventions, as well as such literary social networks as Goodreads.com. If you want to think of famous examples, think of people like Kathy Acker, Mark Leyner, Will Self, Chuck Palahniuk, Blake Butler, China Mieville…and, uh, George Saunders!) Now, of course, in all honesty, there are also a few clunkers scattered here and there in these collections as well, which is simply to be expected in a career that now spans twenty years; and when it comes to the small number of other books he's put out besides story collections, I have to confess that I found those to be a much iffier proposition. For example, there's the 2000 children's book The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, cute enough but as inessential to an adult as any children's book is; then there's his one collection of nonfiction essays, 2007's The Braindead Megaphone, an uneven compilation of random pieces which includes some real gems (one of the best being that GQ piece mentioned, where Saunders is sent George-Plimpton-style to Dubai, and instead of the usual decrying of the ultra-rich he is surprisingly charmed by all the vacationing middle-class families), but that has an equal amount of throwaway pieces done for highly specific commissions; and then there's the only stand-alone fiction book of his career so far, the 2005 novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, which I have to confess is the only thing of Saunders' career that I actively disliked -- written in the middle of the Bush atrocities, it's obviously an attempt to do an Animal Farm-style satire about those years, but is labored in its execution, too on the nose, and in general has too much of a "quirky for the sake of being quirky" vibe, the exact thing that can most quickly kill a piece of bizarro fiction. (But then again, we perhaps shouldn't blame Saunders for this; as I've talked about many times here in the past, it seems that no indignant artist was able to write satirically about Bush in the middle of the Bush Years without producing an overly obvious ranting screed, whether that's Saunders or George Clooney or Michael Moore or Robert Redford. No wonder no good books about Nazis came out until after World War Two; as we all learned in the early 2000s, it's nearly impossible to actually live under a fascist regime and also be subtle and clever in your critique of it.) But those are all small quibbles, of course; Saunders' bread and butter is in his short fiction, and I'm convinced that he will eventually be known as one of the best short-fiction authors in history, joining a surprisingly small list that includes such luminaries as Cheever, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, GK Chesterton and more. Plus, as a fan of edgy and strange work, I'm thrilled that a guy like Saunders is out there, serving as a gateway of sorts between mainstream society and an entire rabbithole of basement-press bizarro titles that's just waiting for newly inspired fans to tumble down. If you're going to pick up your first Saunders book soon, go ahead and pick up the newest, Tenth of December, because it's just as good as all the others and particularly easy to find right now; but I also encourage you to dig deeper into this remarkable author's career, and to see just how far he'll pull you into the murky depths of ambiguous morality before coming bobbing back to the surface. It's been a true treat to become a fan of his work this year, and I urge you to become one as well. Out of 10 (Tenth of December): 9.6

  21. 5 out of 5

    David Bjelland

    And in this way, more were freed. That is why I came back. I was wrong in life, limited, shrank everything down to my size, and yet, in the end, there was something light-craving within me, which sent me back, and saved me. In Persuasion Nation occupies a funny spot in the Saunders I've read so far. At times, it feels like the most tossed-off - maybe even juvenile? - collection of his, with stories that have that meandering, flippantly ultra-violent quality of notebook-margin cartoon doodles (see And in this way, more were freed. That is why I came back. I was wrong in life, limited, shrank everything down to my size, and yet, in the end, there was something light-craving within me, which sent me back, and saved me. In Persuasion Nation occupies a funny spot in the Saunders I've read so far. At times, it feels like the most tossed-off - maybe even juvenile? - collection of his, with stories that have that meandering, flippantly ultra-violent quality of notebook-margin cartoon doodles (see: "Brad Carrigan, American" and the title story). It's hard to know whether to call some of these portraits "compassionate". Even the most believable central characters are sometimes written to be totally ignorant or uncritical of the havoc their well-intentioned actions wreak, seemingly for no higher purpose than to ratchet up the dramatic irony. The subjects of these stories are almost always white, lower-to-middle class conservatives, which makes it hard to orient oneself to the "direction" of all the satire - is it punching up or down? Or sort of, just, a flailing, omni-directional punch-storm of desperation? I guess this tightrope act has probably always been central to Saunders' whole shtick. That said, squint a little and it can also come across as the most earnest and purposeful. For starters, there's the way the stories are grouped, with each section satirizing a different family of quintessentially American insecurities, neuroses and follies. It's unfortunate that the ostensibly-quoted passages introducing each section had to be ghost-written by the author himself - the straw-manning on display unnecessarily undermines the effectiveness - but they do a solid job of sharpening and aiming the axe for the stories that follow. While Lincoln in the Bardo is head-and-shoulders my favorite work of his, and Tenth of December my favorite short-story collection, this would probably be the book I'd first lend to a friend who wanted to know what Saunders was "about". By which I mean, this collection seems to have the most dramatic juxtaposition of cartoonish absurdity and authentic yearning for substance and redemption (see quote at the top and... weirdly, "Brad Carrigan, American" again, at least at the end); in its own way, it's actually less nihilistic than either Tenth of December or Pastoralia. Or, who knows - maybe all of his short-story collections are basically interchangeable and this is just me and my relationship to The Whole George Saunders Shtick evolving as I spend more time with it.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jessica Sullivan

    I didn't love all of the stories in this collection but I still felt lucky to be reading them, if that makes any sense. Saunders has that effect. From self-aware sitcom and commercial characters to recently deceased ghosts, these bitingly hilarious stories are full of absurd, surreal, bizarre people and situations. This is satire with a lot of heart—genre-bending fiction that can best be described as speculative, with a distinct dystopian bent. Themes of totalitarianism, capitalism, consumerism I didn't love all of the stories in this collection but I still felt lucky to be reading them, if that makes any sense. Saunders has that effect. From self-aware sitcom and commercial characters to recently deceased ghosts, these bitingly hilarious stories are full of absurd, surreal, bizarre people and situations. This is satire with a lot of heart—genre-bending fiction that can best be described as speculative, with a distinct dystopian bent. Themes of totalitarianism, capitalism, consumerism and entertainment are prevalent throughout, as is the underlying despair of being trapped in a system from which there is no escape. America in the 2000s, in other words. Favorite stories: Brad Carrigan, American; I CAN SPEAK; My Amendment; In Persuasion Nation; CommComm, Adams.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jill

    Not as enjoyable as Tenth of December but a solid collection of mordant stories nonetheless. More than any other contemporary author I've read, Saunders plays with syntax to dislocate the reader from the text. Words and punctuation that should naturally follow other words and punctuation simply do not follow. The effect carries a chilling punch. Favorite stories here include I CAN SPEAK TM; My Flamboyant Grandson; Jon; 93990; Brad Carrigan, American. Not as enjoyable as Tenth of December but a solid collection of mordant stories nonetheless. More than any other contemporary author I've read, Saunders plays with syntax to dislocate the reader from the text. Words and punctuation that should naturally follow other words and punctuation simply do not follow. The effect carries a chilling punch. Favorite stories here include I CAN SPEAK TM; My Flamboyant Grandson; Jon; 93990; Brad Carrigan, American.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Perry Van Der Meülen

    Fantastic shit!!!!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Adam

    I like Saunders, although he does lay it on a bit thick at times. Subtlety is hard to put one's finger on...Anyway, He's got the right take on things, in the sense that he's opinionated in the same way about the same things I am, and expresses those opinions in a very smartass manner. Always willing to be preached to in the choir, here. There's a dark streak to some of the stories, and the bits of black humor kind of fell flat with me. It was almost as if he's a nice guy who's got a great concept I like Saunders, although he does lay it on a bit thick at times. Subtlety is hard to put one's finger on...Anyway, He's got the right take on things, in the sense that he's opinionated in the same way about the same things I am, and expresses those opinions in a very smartass manner. Always willing to be preached to in the choir, here. There's a dark streak to some of the stories, and the bits of black humor kind of fell flat with me. It was almost as if he's a nice guy who's got a great concept, but is literally TOO nice to get the idea across without sounding forced. I want to read something TRULY mean now, like Bukowski. This is similar to saying that there was absolutely nothing wrong with the girl you just dumped, she was nice and sweet...but now you're f**king some skank who treats you like crap, just because you're REALLY into the sex. Not to say that Bukowski is that one-dimensional, by any stretch, but I hope you get my incredibly crass point. When he's concentrating on being light and funny with a bigger moral message, though, he can really knock it out of the park. This is a great book for warm weather, maybe for the beach or something like that - not so light that you can drift off in the middle or anything, but it would be frustrating if you're looking for more of a mental meal and you pick up this snack-pack.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Scott

    I "liked" about 1/2 of the stories in this latest Saunders, and the other half felt unfinished or boring or pointless or just brutal, even for Saunders. One of the first things I did was tear the dust cover a bit on accident and then said what the hell and threw it away. The book does look better without that stupid photo anyway. I read it while on vacation in a state park in W. Virginia, which somehow seemed fitting. I will also never go on vacation again with only one book. What was I thinking I "liked" about 1/2 of the stories in this latest Saunders, and the other half felt unfinished or boring or pointless or just brutal, even for Saunders. One of the first things I did was tear the dust cover a bit on accident and then said what the hell and threw it away. The book does look better without that stupid photo anyway. I read it while on vacation in a state park in W. Virginia, which somehow seemed fitting. I will also never go on vacation again with only one book. What was I thinking? Thankfully my brother had a copy of Calvino's Barron in the Trees. I liked the story about the grandfather and the kid going to NYC to see Babar and getting accosted by aural and visual advertisements and a citizen helper with a clipboard. And I do appreciate that feeling I get when starting one of his stories like "what the hell is he talking about" that eventually resolves with Saunders telling you exactly what is happening. The montage of commercials was pretty amusing, but didn't stand up to the brilliance I've known from Saunders. I'm not unhappy to have read it, just not what I am used to from Saunders. This is not the Saunders I remembered from way back in '97. And is definitely not on par with Civilwarland or Pastoralia.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Lobstergirl

    Most of the stories in this collection are relentlessly similar, situated in consumerist dystopias or just plain weirdness; Brad Carrigan, American, is the best of these. One of the more affecting stories is Christmas, about a loserish young man who lives in his aunt's basement in Chicago, works on a roofing crew with a bunch of even worse-off n'er-do-wells, and doesn't have good enough prospects to hang on to his girlfriend. Saunders grew up on the south side of Chicago. I have no idea if the s Most of the stories in this collection are relentlessly similar, situated in consumerist dystopias or just plain weirdness; Brad Carrigan, American, is the best of these. One of the more affecting stories is Christmas, about a loserish young man who lives in his aunt's basement in Chicago, works on a roofing crew with a bunch of even worse-off n'er-do-wells, and doesn't have good enough prospects to hang on to his girlfriend. Saunders grew up on the south side of Chicago. I have no idea if the story bears any resemblance to his life, but this passage delivered a little punch: All that winter, once a week or so, I'd been stopping at a pay phone off Pulaski to call the Field Museum, where a kind woman had once praised my qualifications. "Anything yet?" I'd say. "Not yet," she'd say. Once she said, "We need a security guard, ha ha, but that, of course, is way beneath your level." "Oh ha ha, right," I said. But I was thinking: Could I work my way up? Could I, in my security-guard uniform, befriend a doddering curator, impress him with my knowledge of fossils, my work ethic, my quiet respect for Science? "Keep calling though," she said. "Oh I will," I said. And I did, until finally it got too embarrassing.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Nick Black

    i'm gonna give george saunders two more chances, and that's it. yeah, we get it. you don't like commercaials. none of us do. stop being a pretentious douchebag, dude; you teach at syracuse. last time i checked, GT beat you 56-0 in 2013 ACC football, and we barely know the english alphabet. NYPL checkout. i'm gonna give george saunders two more chances, and that's it. yeah, we get it. you don't like commercaials. none of us do. stop being a pretentious douchebag, dude; you teach at syracuse. last time i checked, GT beat you 56-0 in 2013 ACC football, and we barely know the english alphabet. NYPL checkout.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Karyna McGlynn

    Clever, at time quite funny, well-written (no surprise), but the tricks wore thin quickly and I grew tired of the voice and the political allegories. Even though I "enjoyed" each story, I felt like I could abandon the book at any point and not really regret it. Clever, at time quite funny, well-written (no surprise), but the tricks wore thin quickly and I grew tired of the voice and the political allegories. Even though I "enjoyed" each story, I felt like I could abandon the book at any point and not really regret it.

  30. 4 out of 5

    David

    The collection of short stories is a one-trick-pony obsession with contemporary advertising. I could write better short stories than these. Lack of context seems to be his major clever trick. Don't waste your time. The collection of short stories is a one-trick-pony obsession with contemporary advertising. I could write better short stories than these. Lack of context seems to be his major clever trick. Don't waste your time.

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