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CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Stories and a Novella and over one million other books are available for Amazon Kindle. Learn more
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CivilWarLand in Bad Decline Paperback – February 1, 1997

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Editorial Reviews Review

George Saunders, a geophysicist, maps out magical realism with this short story collection. He puts an American spin on that sensibility in the sensationally good title tale, where things in a "Westworld"-like amusement park go extraordinarily wrong, but in ways in that make perfect sense to any denizen--or reader--in the modern world. CivilWarLand is hilarious, yet ultimately sad and moving--and isn't that life in a nutshell? And how can you resist any writer who cooks up titles as good as "Downtrodden Mary's Failed Campaign of Terror"?

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In this debut collection of seven dystopian fantasies, some of which have appeared in the New Yorker and Harper's, America in the near future is a toxic wasteland overrun by vicious thugs and venal opportunists who prey on the weak and misshapen. Saunders's feverish imagination conjures up images as horrific as any from a Hieronymus Bosch painting: a field full of braying mules toppled over from bone marrow disease; a tourist attraction featuring pickled stillborn babies; and cows with Plexiglas windows in their sides. The black humor and vision of American enterprise and evangelism gone haywire are reminiscent of Kurt Vonnegut's early works. In the novella "Bounty," for example, the clawed-foot narrator, who flees slavery under the "Normals" to find his sister, sees a McDonald's that is the headquarters of the Church of Appropriate Humility, aka "the Guilters." "In Guilter epistemology," he observes, "the arches represent the twin human frailties of arrogance and mediocrity." Despite the richness of the vision and the occasionally heart-melting prose, however, there is little difference in voice to distinguish one story from another. Read in one sitting, they blur into a bleak and unsettling vision of the world to come.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Books; 1st Riverhead trade paperback edition (February 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573225797
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573225793
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (150 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #37,001 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

George Saunders's political novella The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil was published by Riverhead Trade Paperbacks in September 2005. He is also the author of Pastoralia and CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, both New York Times Notable Books, and The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip, a New York Times children's bestseller. In 2000, The New Yorker named him one of the "Best Writers Under 40." He writes regularly for The New Yorker and Harper's, as well as Esquire, GQ, and The New York Times Magazine. He won a National Magazine Award for Fiction in 2004 and his work is included in Best American Short Stories 2005. He teaches at Syracuse University.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

44 of 47 people found the following review helpful By Chris Parker on May 12, 2000
Format: Paperback
After hearing George Saunders' name mentioned alonside those of Denis Johnson, Tim O'Brien and Donald Barthelme, modern masters of the short story, I was suprised to find that he only had one small collection in print. After reading that one collection I was shocked to discover that George Saunders has more inborn talent than perhaps any other writer in America today. That he chooses to use that talent in the way he does, crafting edgy, disturbing tales of cultural corruption and alienation, bodes very well for the future of American letters.
The collection draws its title from the first story in the book, probably the best story written by any American author in the last half of the 20th century. Describing the story with any brevity is an almost impossible task. Suffice it to say that it concerns a civil war style theme park director haunted by civil war era ghosts who hires a psychotic Vietnam veteran to rid the park of the gangs who keep invading the place and terrorizing the workers and visitors. This ludicrous story line is sharpened by Suanders' remarkable wit and spirals to a shocking and disturbing conclusion.
Unfortunately, none of the remaining stories in the book equal the brilliance of the first, but none of them really disappoint the reader either. "Isabelle" is strangely moving and "The 400 Pound CEO" is a tragicomedy whose ending is so innevitable that it is almost painful to read. George Saunders from whom there is much to expect and he has the undeniable talent to back up those expectations.
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110 of 126 people found the following review helpful By dams on April 7, 2000
Format: Paperback
If I could communicate, as clearly as possible, the embodiment of a 'glowing review,' I would do it here. These days it seems almost anyone can write a decent sentence. There are so many MFA programs out there now, that it seems like more people write short stories than read them. Yet, to come across a talent as huge as George Saunders (by education an Engineer, by pure gift of God, a writer) is still something to behold. With so many good writers writing good stories made of good sentences, its kind of tough to stand out and write with true excellence and originality. But George Saunders does this. Oh, does he do this. You don't know the meaning of the word pathetic until you step into the heads of some of these characters. Granted, you will get the sneaking feeling that the same protagonist is being transported from place to place and story to story, with few changes, but Saunder's heroes (if we can call them that) are so pathetic, so pitiable, so 'downtrodden,' that you can read of their ridiculous plights repeatedly and still be surprised at how good it makes you feel to do so. The main reason for this is Saunder's killer prose; it's almost an invented dialect of the post-modern mind. The very phrasing makes you feel like you're being tickled. And there's the voyeuristic aspect concomitant with today's TV culture. It's just great fun to watch bad things happen to normal people. And even if the main characters are very similar, the supporting cast is always a riot, complete with beautifully idiotic dialogue and deadpan narration. But perhaps the most remarkable aspect of these ironic, self-mocking tales, is their undercurrent of sympathy and sensitivity. At the end of nearly every story, Saunders manages to change the tone faster than Jeff Gordon can go through the gearbox, and suddenly you find yourself disarmed by the recognition of your own cynicism and what it might prevent you from knowing.
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33 of 40 people found the following review helpful By Bryan Byrd on June 26, 2010
Format: Paperback
'Civilwarland in Bad Decline' is a collection of half a dozen stories and a novella, some set in the near-future, the rest indefinitely contemporary - but all of them written from such an absorbingly odd perspective that they seem to originate in a parallel dimension a half step out of sync with our own. Exactly what it is that twists Mr. Saunders' prose out of joint is hard to define - sometimes it is small details and concepts thrown at the reader without definition (deciphered through context), and other times it is the singularly strange mindset and motivations of his secondary characters. This is also intensified by the author's tendency to give his protagonists unusual occupations, such as a water park wavemaker operator (The Wavemaker Falters), a raccoon exterminator (The 400-Pound CEO), and a Verisimilitude Inspector at a Civil War reenactment facility (Civilwarland in Bad Decline).

This last story is the first presented, and arguably the best. A yes-man to the director of a Civil War themed living museum conspires with his boss on the best way to rid the park of periodic intrusions by violent gangs who terrorize the paying customers. Eventually they find that one of the men on their current payroll had been involved in some questionable activities during his tour in Vietnam, and they approach him to solve their gang problems - to meet violence with violence - a tactic that involves some shady moral rationalizations. Combining quirky dry humor, magical realism, Tarentino-esque violence, an emasculated and morally paralyzed main character, and a satirical critique of modern America, 'Civilwarland' is part commentary on society and part comedic bleak nihilism. Good fun!

Unfortunately, Mr.
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