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Archive for the ‘Short stories’ Category

I still remember the first George Saunders story I read, “Sea View.” I still remember how strange, how surprising and disorienting, I found his writing style. It was as if something brand new had come into the world, maybe the way Keats felt “On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer,”

Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken

In a now familiar set-up, the reader is drawn into a dystopian, slightly surreal (sometimes more than slightly) world of ordinary people who struggle to get through a day where the deck is stacked against them, often at the mercy of petty bureaucrats or corporate tyrants, just trying to hang onto pointless, humiliating jobs, often in what seem to be a cross between amusement parks and reality TV shows. Now, I’ve read most, if not all, of his stories (frequently in The New Yorker and most recently reread them in The Tenth of December. I enjoyed revisiting some of these, the brilliant and poignant Puppy, the moving, redemptive title story and some others. They have very different writing styles, but I rank George Saunders right up there with Alice Munro for his mastery of the form and for his generous view of humanity: while describing evil actions, no-win situations, sad losers, he can bring you to another level where your perspective is not the only one, where you can glimpse more than what your circumstances dictate. As Jennifer Egan wrote, his work is “emotionally piercing.” As Kafka said, “Art should be an axe to the frozen sea within.” Saunders does that.

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The Tenth of December by George Saunders is confidently called “the best book you’ll read this year” by the New York Times! If you haven’t yet read a George Saunders story, the profile of this mind-bending yet humane and compassionate writer is a wonderful introduction to his worldview. His stories are so odd and unbalancing, set as they frequently are, in some dystopic, not-so-distant future where people and places are recognizable but more than a little skewed, and he uses that leverage to pull the characters, the reader, himself, all of us, up a notch, to a slightly higher level, where the view is better, the air a little kinder. But don’t get the wrong idea, these are not exactly feel-good stories. They are well-crafted, dark and humorous, and have a stinging way of bringing you closer to your own flaws but also forgiving you for them.

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