four-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
24-Sept-Oct-2006
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Stories

A-InPersuasionNationGeorge Saunders’s fictional world limns the edges of absurdity. Polar bears perform Sisyphean tasks, focus groups hold children hostage, and reality TV is driven to even more grotesque extremes. These flights of experimental fiction make the family ghosts in "CommComm" reenacting their own murder seem downright plausible. Saunders’s newest collection of 12 short stories balances the serious and the absurd as the author seeks out the soul that remains in a world gone mad with marketing. That he finds it amid the grotesqueries of his fictional scenarios, and does so while maintaining plausibility, testifies to his singular intelligence.
Riverhead. 240 pages. $23.95. ISBN: 159448922X

Minneapolis Star-Tribune 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Nothing but a burning love for humanity could drive someone to the bizarre lengths to which he goes. He is a resistance fighter on the front lines of the war on independent thought, battling those who would numb our minds for profit." Kristin Tillotson

NY Times Book Review 4.5 of 5 Stars
"Expertly made, unmistakably his, [his goods will] be consumed with gusto by the loyal customers who enjoyed CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia. It’s the kind of ironic twist he delights in: George Saunders, sworn enemy of commodification, is in danger of becoming a dependable brand name." Adam Begley

Oregonian 4 of 5 Stars
"These stories are funny, often absurd, and, upon reflection, utterly serious. It is the kind of humor that makes your belly ache and your stomach turn." Sarah Gianelli

Dallas Morning News 3.5 of 5 Stars
"He has a dead-perfect ear for our nervous babble, the pathetic contrivances of grammar and corporate-speak that we use to hide the dreadful." Jerome Weeks

San Francisco Chronicle 3.5 of 5 Stars
"No matter what fantastic concept one invents to mock commercialism and pop culture, which Saunders does well in his new story collection, In Persuasion Nation, it seems marketing has got there already." Charles May

Boston Globe 3 of 5 Stars
"A few of the stories of In Persuasion Nation highlight Saunders at his most original, but the collection is uneven, and probably suffers from its themes repeated back to back—what can seem brilliant at the beginning … can also become a weary march of send-ups by the end." Gail Caldwell

Critical Summary

Can there be too much good Saunders? Critics praise the book but then admit that reading the stories in succession almost overwhelmed them. As he did in CivilWarLand in Bad Decline and Pastoralia, Saunders takes our world to its logical extremes, sometimes to the point of oversaturation. If his work seems avant-garde, it’s approachably so, probably because of his ability to "construct a story of absurdist satire, then locate within it a moment of searing humanity" (Boston Globe). There is some unevenness to his latest collection (both the title story and "Brad Carrigan, American" leave many critics grumbling, while "Bohemians" was chosen for this year’s Best American Short Stories), but reviewers agree that there’s no substitute for Saunders at his best—especially in small doses.