Sunday, February 24, 2008

George Saunders - Genius

My novella group read "The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil" by Saunders last Summer and we really enjoyed it. I borrowed "In Persuasion Nation" from a friend but gave it back after reading the first two short stories saying that I had to get my own copy.

I read an interview somewhere with Saunders and he admitted that reading his stories straight is tough and he suggests staggering their reading. You really do get to the end of some of these and think "huh" and kind of sit and mull over what you read. I read this book while in LA and it was the perfect setting. A town where "Jon", and the other TrendSetters and & TasteMakers, influence the Persuasion Nation.

First, these stories stay with you. I feel that I will go back and re-read my favorites and I keep thinking about their images and themes.

Second, Saunders uses a lot of current cultural references and I found myself wondering if that would really date these stories and make them less vital in the future. Then I thought maybe that is the point. Being a modern author and using modern signposts is perhaps a way that Saunders is poking fun at our fads. Maybe the stories aren't meant to last. Our "Persuasion Nation" will move on to the next trend and leave the past in the garbage dump.

Third, when Saunders hits he hits big and when he misses.....well, he misses big. I loved "My Flamboyant Grandson". "Adams" and "The Red Bow" had a little tinge of "Joyce Carol Oates". "Commcomm" was the one I thought bombed but at least it was at the end of the collection.

The book has a wide range of emotional response and I did find myself laughing out loud either because I was uncomfortable or because I thought Saunders showed his sense of humor. All in all I've enjoyed what I've read by Saunders and will check out more of his work. He did win a Genius grant but for only $500,000 instead of the usual million. Unfair! His short stories pack as much of a wallop as a full book.

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