Just finished "In Persuasion Nation," and, while I found it enjoyable and consistently challenging, it left a rather bitter aftertaste (I decided not to post a review here, since my comments have more to do with the ideas the books raises than with its literary merit.)
Saunders is clearly one of the most incisive and ferocious critics of consumer culture writing fiction today, but he's certainly not one of the subtlest. His m.o., generally speaking, is to take those ugly impulses at work within the everyday scenes of post-industrial capitalism and amplify them to painful levels. The results are often very funny - in a broad, even slapstick way - but what at first seemed a forgiveable lack of nuance in his writing eventually started to seem to me like a more disturbing limitation in his thinking about contemporary culture.
To be specific, the collection concludes with two stories that are primarily concerned with redemption, and redemption of a pretty clearly religious sort. Saunders can't, in good faith, be accused of being a Bush-era fundamentalist in postmodernist clothing, but, in many respects, I think his ways of conceptualizing life in 21st century America have a lot in common with the Manichaean worldview of the Religious Right. More simply put, Saunders seems to have such a grim and cynical view of cultural life today that the only alternative he can imagine is a kind of beatific transcendance of it all.
By so consistently exaggerating the very worst aspects of a consumerism-driven culture, Saunders at once occupies and recreates the same polarized landscape that has produced a generation of disillusioned reactionaries. From this 'all-or-nothing' perspective, our culture has become so utterly and irrevocably bankrupt that the only option left to good, "light-craving" people is to renounce the whole unholy mess in favor of, at best, a kind of New Age-y Drop Out, or, at worst, a creepily old-fashioned kind of Great Awakening.
Honestly, I felt a bit depressed after finishing the book. Here's one of the very few writers out there who's really willing to expose the dangerous and brutal aspects of our "fun-obsessed" society, but his alternatives, ultimately, seemed no less sinister in their too-easy recourse to metaphors of Redemption, capital R. Lots more to be said on these topics, of course, but I'll just try throwing a first pitch out there & see if anyone wants to take a swing.