Narwhal Party


Favorite Things: George Saunders
12/31/2010, 9:44 am
Filed under: Books, Words | Tags: , , , ,

One of my favorite endeavors of 2010 has been delving into the stories of George Saunders. I’m embarrassed that I didn’t find his work earlier, but this year I read his three collections, Pastoralia, CivilWarLand In Bad Decline, and In Persuasion Nation (in that order). Most of his stories are build on some strange, vague premise, absurd and funny and often unsettling. But Saunders’ power lies in his ability to create these absurd circumstances and, just when you’re getting your footing, take a powerfully human turn that is usually packed with startlingly authentic emotion and power. Most of the time, these turns are shocking, especially when they are in stories about extreme reality shows, unnecessary inventions, strange theme parks, ghosts, and television commercials. Yet he draws so much humanity out of such ridiculous circumstances.

In a recent interview with The New Yorker’s blog, The Book Bench, Saunders touches on this skill of his:

If I want the reader to feel sympathy for a character, I cleave the character in half, on his birthday. And then it starts raining. And he’s made of sugar.

Are people made of sugar? Is it raining? How often does a guy get cut in half on his birthday? Still, the story about the sugar-guy being cut in half on his birthday in the rain is not saying: this happens. It is saying, If this happened, what would that be like? Its subject becomes, say, undeserved misery—which does happen. We know that, we feel it. And maybe (the argument goes) it was necessary to make this exaggerated sugar-guy and cut him in half in order to remind ourselves, at sufficient volume, that undeserved misery exists—to sort of rarify and present that feeling so we might feel it anew.

Read the fantastic new story, “Escape From Spiderhead” from a recent New Yorker, here.

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