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I really enjoyed this assortment of short stories. Many are messed up! The first novella points a jarring finger at workplace politics and busy-work, but in a fun/creative way. There's also a very memorable short about a dead poor woman who comes back from her gave to "haunt" her family. She pushes them to move up in the world economically, all while she is in a state of denial regarding her body's increasing state of decay. This story managed to be funny and heart breaking.
I love George Saunders' writing, and The Tenth of December may be one of my favourite books of last year. These stories are not near as gut wrenching, although that cannot be said of "The End of FIRPO in the world." The story "Sea Oak" is worth the price of admission alone.
Vous refermez ce recueil de six nouvelles et vous vous sentez une autre personne, meilleure, plus "décente". Et vous en sortez dans l'hilarité. Avec mordant, intelligence, compassion, originalité et humour, Saunders nous livre une collection de paraboles, de textes satiriques, d'une imagination sans limite, parfois ridicules, émouvants, prodigues de métaphores. Il nous entraîne à 1000 lieues de la réalité, on est en plein rêve ou en plein délire, puis on tourne la page et il se montre le chroniqueur le plus pointu d'une certaine 'corporate America'. On assimile parfois Saunders à Vonnegut; j'y retrouve plutôt la tendresse freaky de Flannery O'Connor.
George Saunders' stories are like nothing I've read before. It's even hard to describe what they are. They are just so different. And thought-provoking. And amusing. And superbly written. I don't want to outline the stories or half-tell my favourite. Trust me. They're wonderful
A confession: I have been racing through several of Saunders' short story collections and am not sure which came from where. But this collection has "The Barber's Unhappiness," a comic masterpiece that had me laughing out loud more than once, so I vote for this one. As a woman-obsessed bachelor with a Walter Mitty imagination, the barber is one of the most pathetic protagonists I've ever encountered, and proof that Saunders can create great comic riffs with panache, succeeding at one of the most difficult forms of writing. Most often the weaver of dark tableaux of loony amusement parks and bizarre concentration camps, recounted from the point of view of the inhabitants, Saunders creates metaphors for our social straight jackets equal to anything Beckett ever invented. Influenced by Hemingway when a fledgling writer, he may have thus acquired a brilliant ability to put the reader "in media res" and flesh out one or another bizarre worlds with breathtaking economy. His touch is always light and usually comic, though often paranoia-invoking, since corporate and classist regimes are hardly far removed from our own. He is a writer for our times, or at least if feels so to me. The personal fit—reflective of impending global tragedy, not to mention our American dystopia, of our collective angst confronting a seriously broken society, taken together with my own need to mock the situation, to laugh derisively at our sorry predicament—is amazing. So timely is Saunders for me that it's difficult to say whether he's great literature of just extremely good at what he does. But it's not for me to say anyway, is it? For those looking for more depth of feeling, "Lincoln in the Bardo" may be the answer. That is Saunders' novel and, tied to history, is furthest from satire. But I prefer Saunders the descendant of Swift and Kafka and Beckett and, as they say, Vonnegut and Pynchon, whose American efforts never impressed me as much as this writer's.
The five stars is for "Sea Oak," the middle story in this short collection. I read it as part of The Scribner Anthology of Contemporary Short Fiction for a class and was knocked over and trampled on unlike any short story had ever done before. I found out what book was in and bought it new so George Saunders might get some sort of money for it.
"Sea Oak" is gritty, strange, grotesque, and ultimately compassionate. I don't want to give anything away, but it's the story of a low-, lower-class family struggling to get by. The male narrator works as a stripper while his sister and cousin both raise their own babies and try to get their GED. Their sunny Aunt Bernie works at DrugTown and tries to tell everyone to be thankful for what they have. But, really, they have nothing to be thankful for. The story takes some bizarre, sometimes frightening, supernatural turns. It left me in tears.
The other stories in this collection did not shake me as much as "Sea Oak" did, although the title novella, "Pastoralia" is full of imagination and wit. It follows two people who work at some sort of museum/theme park. They must pretend to be cavemen all day long, as though they're living anthropological experiments. The narrator's co-worker, Janet, is a bad caveman. She talks in English and insults the customers. Yet, the narrator is expected to review her every day and fax it in to the corporate office. Every day he says she's fine, unwilling to "cave" in to the corporate pressure to narc on another human being. Of course, there wouldn't be a story if this didn't change, but I'll leave it at that.
There are four other stories, including one about a self-help guru, a kid who is a loser, and an adult who is a loser. Their tone is similar, but they're distinct and interesting in their own way. Compelled to give them star ratings, I'd give them all a four, with "Pastoralia" getting a 4.5.