Monday, April 30, 2007

"CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Stories and a Novella" by George Saunders

In a review of another work (which is still outstanding on my requests list from the TPL), George Saunders was mentioned as writing short stories about work, which apparently not many other people do. I was immediately curious, because a lot of the notes that are stuffed in my "short stories to be written" folder are about work, so I was wondering what the competition was. Were the stories I was contemplating already written? Was there any point?

If this volume is representative of George Saunders' work, then I think I can write my stories in peace. These aren't what I would write at all. And that's a good thing, for both him and for me. there would be little more depressing than reading something that got published that I would have written, like literally (wishing I had written something is completely different). The stories are manic and a little bit futuristic. Theme parks feature big.

I preferred the six short stories to the novella. I read the first three stories quickly, but then I got stuck on "The 400-pound CEO". I found the character intensely depressing, at the same time that I quite enjoyed certain turns of a phrase. The last conversation the main character has with his father I found wonderful, and the climax of his "moment of very big mistake" (I won't say what it was, because that would ruin the story) made me laugh out loud (while I was sitting in a room full of people, no less). "Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz" had a wonderful ending but ultimately left me confused and unsatisfied. Maybe after I got to the end I should have gone back to the beginning and started again, but the book has gone back to the library, so it's too late now.

The novella, "Bounty", had too many characters that talked too much, and they all seemed to talk with the same voice. However, unlike some of the other stories, at least the ending was upbeat (though it also seemed sudden and contrived). The whole story seemed too long. I hope George's other books are full of just short things; I don't think the long form suits his style.

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