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These older stories of Saunders' can seem mannered and familiar at times, but that's probably because he's been such a game-changer of a writer. Surreal and elegiac and satirical. At times wickedly funny.
George Saunders seems able to write only about near-future corporate hell and decaying theme parks. And, he writes the same types of characters into each story. The main characters cannot act out their desires, because their desires place them outside the system. This makes them somewhat pitiful. The ones who can act out their desires within the system are objectionable because they are tailoring their desire to the system itself. Saunders has staked out for himself this part of the torture of modern life. In the hands of a less talented writer, this narrow focus of setting and character would be a drawback. The decayed settings and amoral characters of Donald Antrim's writings are similar, for example, but after a few Antrim stories, you see that there is no more depth than the surface chaos. Saunders seems able to find new depth in the souls of his characters every time he looks into them. In his work, each main character finds his own way out of the rat race. Oh, it also doesn't hurt that Saunders' writing is hilarious and highly readable.
The hype for his most recent Tenth of December release prompted me to visit CivilWarLand. While some stories are poignant and revealing others just sit there. This volume is far less developed and mature and far less satisfying than Tenth of December. It does provide a guide to later development and the surreal environment that Saunders often likes to play in. Reviewing this work provides a clearer picture of the author's place in the firmament.