Monday, January 3, 2011

New George Saunders Story

Ellis and I recently took a totally rejuvenating mid-week weekend to our eldest's perfect writer's hideaway in Guilford, Ct. We split the day between eating delicious homemade breads, walking on the beach, and trading book and movie recommendations with our brilliant sister and brother-in-law, both writers whose tastes in books we blindly heed.

Saunders-esque painting by Scott Mussgrove

On the in-law's recommendation, I read the story from last week's New Yorker, which I was excited to find out is George Saunders, a long-time favorite. I happened to read his latest as a bed-time story aloud to Ellis, which proved to be rather night-marish, but luckily she fell asleep before the end. Check "Escape from Spiderhead" in full, Ellis and friends. It was a great read, available online.

Saunders stories tend to be, on one level, very funny satires, and on a bigger (to me) level, very personal dramas. Set in a future universe in which a drug has been invented that can spontaneously induce love feelings, the story takes a million risks that you must see pulled off for yourself.

In the tradition of many of the great New Yorker writers, Saunders always makes his narrators far less intelligent and articulate than the writer clearly is. The narrator in "Spiderhead" is no exception, except that in this society, a drug has been invented called "Verbulace" which spontaneously induces eloquence. These passages in which the character is tripping on verbulace were the most fun for me to read, maybe just for how they show off Saunders' capability for restraint in so much of his other writing.

Pastoralia! by George Saunders in a cool cover from Bloomsbury.

Usually, writers hide political truths in emotional stories, but Saunders stories are full of personal truths hidden in political stories, in this case ostensibly "about" pharmaceutical culture. This is perhaps why Saunders fares better on David Letterman than he does on Stephen Colbert. (Stephen Colbert is always awkward with liberal guests. I feel for them. How are they supposed to react to his gag?) But watch both. He is always smart and charming.

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