"Back when Philip K. Dick asked, 'Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?' who could have imagined that George Saunders would answer?... Saunders's caustic wit, imaginative flair, and the ping-pong speed of his dialogue are on full display here." Los Angeles Times
"Leaves you startled and hushed, grateful to be alive and to be reading." Associated Press
"Insanely inventive... Stunningly effective... The surreal Saunders magic is working." New York Times Book Review
"Ludicrously funny and outrageously prescient... Saunders's finest gift... is to construct a story of absurdist satire, then locate within it a moment of searing humanity." The Boston Globe
"Pynchon-meets-Wonder Showzen." Entertainment Weekly
To our way of thinking, George Saunders writes some of the most hilarious, deranged, and disturbing satiric fiction being published today. Familiar to readers of The New Yorker and other literary magazines, Saunders has garnered an enthusiastic cult following that seems to grow with each new book. Following up his novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, the author returns to his true stock-in-trade: profoundly weird short stories set in a darkly funny, dystopian world. Combining the pop art sensibilities of Andy Warhol and the futuristic stylings of William Gibson, Saunders is a startlingly original voice in contemporary fiction. But don't take our word for it: Read for yourself. And prepare to be stunned.
Following his superb story collections Civilwarland in Bad Decline (1996) and Pastoralia (1999), as well as last year's novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, Saunders reaffirms his sharp, surreal vision of contemporary, media-saturated life, but keeps most of the elements within his familiar bandwidth. In the sweetly acerbic "My Flamboyant Grandson," a family trip through Times Square is overwhelmed by pop-up advertisements. In "Jon," orphans get sold to a market research firm and become famous as "Tastemakers & Trendsetters" (complete with trading cards). "CommComm" concerns an air force PR flunky living with the restless souls of his parents while covering for a spiraling crisis at work. The more conventionally grounded stories are the most compelling: one lingers over a bad Christmas among Chicago working stiffs, another follows a pair of old Russian-Jewish women haunted by memories of persecution. Others collapse under the weight of too much wit (the title story especially), and a few are little more than exercises in patience ("93990," "My Amendment"). But Saunders's vital theme-the persistence of humanity in a vacuous, nefarious marketing culture of its own creation-comes through with subtlety and fresh turns. (May) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Within this series of thematically linked stories, consumerism goes haywire in a country and era somewhat like our own. Following his fabulist novella (The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, 2005), Saunders returns to the short story with his signature synthesis of satire and surrealism, through which flights of the imagination assume a hyper-reality. Within the brave new world of "Persuasion Nation," parents buy computerized masks for their babies, transforming infants into amazing, more articulate facsimiles of themselves (and making the neighbors jealous). Advertising holograms based on individual preferences shadow potential shoppers, in a society where consumption equals patriotism. Children are taken from their homes to live in a training camp, where they form an elite Tastemakers & Trendsetters cadre (complete with their own bubblegum cards). With all the pressures to consume and conform, free will is either an illusion or a betrayal. The stories take a variety of formats-letters of complaint and comment, a scientific report, a holiday memory (in the uncharacteristic, bittersweet realism of "Christmas")-and most of them feature first-person narration by a series of oddly dysfunctional narrators. Exceptions to the variety of first-person voices are two of the longer stories at the collection's center: "Brad Carrigan, American" finds a television series under threat of cancellation resorting to increasingly extreme measures to sustain interest (and in the process probing the morality of anything-goes reality TV). The title story that follows turns the world of commercials into a battlefield of all-American revolt. Though much of the fiction is slapstick funny in a dark, deadpanway, a spiritual undercurrent courses through the work, as desire and suffering feed on each other, and God may be just another pitchman or empty promise. Where many short stories at the creative vanguard seem to bear minimal relation to the world at large, Saunders's work is as effective as social commentary as it is at exploring the frontiers of fiction. Many readers will be glad that they don't live in Persuasion Nation, though the most perceptive will recognize that we already do.