I read everything George Saunders writes, ever since Civilwarland in Bad Decline. If I’m honest nothing he’s written since that book (and there’s been no shortage of wonderful stuff) recalibrated my understanding of what was possible in fiction using a contemporary voice quite as much, but I love it all. These days he is adding nuance to the formidable body of moral philosophy he has smuggled into my consciousness disguised as fiction, and this story is no exception. The wise, bearded bodhisattva of the short story still has a crackling imagination, a generational ear for internal dialog, and a superhuman supply of empathy. Many of these stories humanize characters dehumanized by their work (most memorably a hell-themed subterranean amusement park in “Ghoul”) and others burrow deep into personal histories (two rivals remembering one man in “Mother’s Day”, a man trying to communicate honestly with his grandson across the chasm of dystopia in “Love Letter”). This is Saunders’ first short story collection in about a decade. It’s a little uneven, and there is undeniably a grimness to these stories, but there’s so much insight and kindness and attentiveness to some of the weirdest parts of the human condition that none of that matters. I’m happy he’s tried other things, but I’d be just fine if all he did was give us one of these every few years.
- Random House (2022), 257 pages
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- Publisher Description
NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “One of our most inventive purveyors of the form returns with pitch-perfect, genre-bending stories that stare into the abyss of our national character. . . . An exquisite work from a writer whose reach is galactic.”—Oprah Daily Booker Prize winner George Saunders returns with his first collection of short stories since the New York Times bestseller Tenth of December. ONE OF THE BEST BOOKS OF THE YEAR: The New Yorker The “best short-story writer in English” (Time) is back with a masterful collection that explores ideas of power, ethics, and justice and cuts to the very heart of what it means to live in community with our fellow humans. With his trademark prose—wickedly funny, unsentimental, and exquisitely tuned—Saunders continues to challenge and surprise: Here is a collection of prismatic, resonant stories that encompass joy and despair, oppression and revolution, bizarre fantasy and brutal reality. “Love Letter” is a tender missive from grandfather to grandson, in the midst of a dystopian political situation in the (not too distant, all too believable) future, that reminds us of our obligations to our ideals, ourselves, and one another. “Ghoul” is set in a Hell-themed section of an underground amusement park in Colorado and follows the exploits of a lonely, morally complex character named Brian, who comes to question everything he takes for granted about his reality. In “Mother’s Day,” two women who loved the same man come to an existential reckoning in the middle of a hailstorm. In “Elliott Spencer,” our eighty-nine-year-old protagonist finds himself brainwashed, his memory “scraped”—a victim of a scheme in which poor, vulnerable people are reprogrammed and deployed as political protesters. And “My House”—in a mere seven pages—comes to terms with the haunting nature of unfulfilled dreams and the inevitability of decay. Together, these nine subversive, profound, and essential stories coalesce into a case for viewing the world with the same generosity and clear-eyed attention Saunders does, even in the most absurd of circumstances. (Publisher’s Description)
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