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George Saunders' first collection arrives with ecstatic blurbs from Thomas Pynchon, Tobias Wolff, and Garrison Keillor, and what the hell, the guy actually deserves it. The author, a geophysical engineer, specializes in pitch-black satire. His stories take place sometime in the near future, and many of them feature entrepreneurial concepts to die for. One character runs the Burn 'n' Learn franchise, with "a fully stocked library on the premises and as you tan you call out the name of any book you want to these high-school girls on roller skates." Others work in virtual-reality theme parks, which offer shabby duplications of the Civil War or a Day at the Beach. Saunders has a great ear for professional jargon, and his descriptions of these dystopian Disneylands invariably ring true.
In the title story, for example, the narrator manages a crew of Adjunct Thespians, Verisimilitude Inspectors, and Historical Reconstruction Associates. Another theme park -- a fake farm called Our Nation's Bounty -- includes among its exhibits a cow with a see-through panel in its stomach. ("The idea was to provide schoolchildren insight into the digestive process of a large mammal.") Given their satiric slant, these stories aren't particularly plot-driven. In most of them, the employees are falling apart at about the same speed as the business, and it's a race to see who will last longer. But Saunders' voice, deadpan and hilarious, keeps you coming back for more, and not even the occasional patches of tough-guy lyricism can succeed in derailing it. -- Salon