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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read This Book
For objectivity's sake: I am a big fan of George Saunders' fiction and non-fiction alike. I see In Persuasion Nation as a step forward into new territories and places (always in Saunders' fiction, there is the place -- CivilWarLand, the land of Inner Horner, alternate universes where our advertising creations live lives close to our own), if not a giant leap ahead...
Published on April 27, 2006 by BJ DuPont

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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A book full of fantastic stories, successes and failures both.
George Saunders is a man who - when he wants to - knows his way around a story. One needs look no farther than "Sea Oak," the crown jewel of his last collection of stories, "Pastoralia," to know that Saunders has a way with tapping the plight of contemporary man and owning it completely. When Saunders is on, his stories feel like reading the new classic literature of our...
Published on June 14, 2007 by NF Inc.


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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Read This Book, April 27, 2006
By 
BJ DuPont (Chicago, IL USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: In Persuasion Nation (Hardcover)
For objectivity's sake: I am a big fan of George Saunders' fiction and non-fiction alike. I see In Persuasion Nation as a step forward into new territories and places (always in Saunders' fiction, there is the place -- CivilWarLand, the land of Inner Horner, alternate universes where our advertising creations live lives close to our own), if not a giant leap ahead. Saunders' keeps it simple, but provocative: the world and all of its inhabitants are sacred, so why do we squander all of that precious sanctity brutalizing each other? This theme winds its way throughout this collection in ways both stark and hilarious. The prose is grounded in the way we say things, which casts an even stronger light on those passages that are transcendent in their simple and precise lyricism (here I am thinking especially of the ending to "CommComm", which I think is maybe Saunders' strongest story yet). If Saunders' deep concern with humanity comes across as saccharine at times, I think that's more of a comment on where we're at than where his fiction is, cause if you can't come to care for this cast of characters (which includes an orange and a polar bear with a hatchet in his head), then, well . . .
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Which I can only describe as Nothing-Is-Excluded...', September 5, 2006
By 
Obelix (Ancient Gaul) - See all my reviews
This review is from: In Persuasion Nation (Hardcover)
Warped environments, pitch-perfect prose, corporate strong-arming, roof-tarring, talking baby masks, humanity down but not out.

George Saunders is back and skewering consumerist largesse as never before.

Let's not beat about the bush: In Persuasion Nation is an uneven collection. 'Brad Corrigan, American', 'My Flamboyant Grandson', and 'My Amendment' are slight pieces: they rely on conceits that don't carry the necessary weight. But then when we get to 'CommComm', 'The Red Bow' and 'Bohemians'...and you feel the way Raymond Carver's readers must have felt the first time the first time they feasted on 'A Small Good Thing' and 'Cathedral'. 'CommComm' in particular is slowly usurping 'The 400-Pound Ceo' as my favourite Saunders story.

For all Saunders's settings and situations, I never feel that he's a bleak author. He's too outrageous, too in love with humanity to leave that bitter, dystopian aftertaste. Saunders - a former geologist and practicing Buddhist - always gives humanity its due. Even God makes a decent cameo appearance. God is as he is elsewhere in Saunders's work - immanent, transcendent, quiet, and unassuming. In this respect, Saunders resembles the Scottish past-master, Alasdair Gray.

IPN isn't the author's best collection, but it contains his best pieces so far. I eagerly await the next installment in the Saunders saga.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars No country for sad men, June 14, 2011
This review is from: In Persuasion Nation (Paperback)
George Saunders' "In persuasion nation" is a collection of stories so funny that it is impossible to feel sad after reading it. At the same time, it is a complex satire of our time, of the future we are heading to. He is a perceptive writer that combines good prose with an acid view of our time. The title story is magic, surreal and, at the same time very down to earth. It is about a group rebellion against advertisement and consumerism. All the stories handle a modern subject that has changed - not necessarily for better - our lives. Saunders' imagination is limitless and because of it his stories are at the same time funny and a warning for the state of the world.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars "America, to me, should be shouting all the time", June 15, 2008
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This review is from: In Persuasion Nation (Hardcover)
I heard the author at a book reading when his previous collection, "Pastoralia," came out. I asked him how he conceived his intricate, twisting stories. He replied that it was like tossing a stick out for your dog to fetch, but the dog comes back with a baby's severed (I hope) arm in his mouth. Or maybe it was a doll's head, or a real one. You get the picture, however.

As "Pastoralia" marked a shift into more humane characters if no less bizarre scenarios away from the corporate-psychobabble-consumerist dystopias of his first collection, "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline," so "In Persuasion Nation" depicts his fumbling figures adrift in a more media-driven setting, farther from the tract homes, chain stores at the strip malls, and "business parks" of his earlier stories. He's an acquired taste, and not a quick read despite the superficial facility of his prose. Like Vonnegut, with whom I sense here an increasing connection, Saunders strives to marry the morality tale to the satirical invective against homogenization and conformity that masks its domination in the cant of buyer's (or voter's!) choice, free-enterprise, and relentless salesmanship.

More humanity, and less concentration on verbal tics and ingenious vignettes, shows Saunders' evolution as a writer. The four sections gather stories into patterns that, especially at the start and closing, recalled for me an unlikely but indirectly perhaps influential predecessor: James Joyce's "Dubliners." As nearly a century ago the pattern of social paralysis emerged through stories arranged from childhood to adolescence to public life to maturity, before entering the sublime and disturbing epiphanies of "The Dead," so here do twelve entries arrange themselves in a similar order. Part One takes on growing up; Part Two enters into suburban families; Part Three explores speculative terrain of lab research, mass marketing and media blitzing; Part Four combines character studies with harrowing accounts of violence past and present. Each section's prefaced by a brief excerpt from "Bernard 'Ed' Alton" who in his "Taskbook for a New Nation," targets those who will not conform to the cornucopia of crap.

The "health of our commerce" is first defended by such Power-Point middle-management protegees. Saunders in earlier fiction delved into their world. Now, he looks out on those who are sold such a bill of goods. The first three stories explore "free"-enterprise that limits autonomy. "I CAN SPEAK!tm" introduces a baby's toy, a mask that makes the tot articulate beyond infant ability; "My Flamboyant Grandson" enters a near-future in which citizens are beholden to tap in to an electronic system haranguing them for marketing "opportunities" and a grandfather's grim duty to this Orwell-meets-Philip K. Dick surveillance contrasted with his wish to allow his charge a bit of freedom. The elderly man tries to rebel:

"What America is to me, is a guy doesn't want to buy, you let him not buy, you respect his not buying. A guy has a crazy notion different from your crazy notion, you pat him on the back and say, Hey pal, nice crazy notion, let's go have a beer. America, to me, should be shouting all the time, a bunch of shouting voices, most of them wrong, some of them nuts, but please, not just one droning glamourous reasonable voice." (21)

Wise words as we witness a presidential campaign or a P.R. blitz. "Jon," nearly a novella, takes on a community where children have been raised as a test market and can by "lendelling" call up in their visual field by blinking an array of memories mixed with databases of endlessly recalled ads that tug at heartstrings cleverly. The tale, I thought, was about to end just when it hesitated and gained verisimilitude (no easy feat) and continued into a more satisfying conclusion than I'd anticipated.

Saunders' ability to take on longer stories bodes well for his staying power. So many of those with whom he might be compared such as Richard Brautigan, Nathanael West, or even later Pynchon or Vonnegut, have foundered in keeping up their imaginary powers. Part Two's prefaced by "Ed"'s defense of preferences, against those who "citing equality, deny our right to make critical moral distinctions." The weakest story, "My Amendment," imagines a legislative remedy for gender mis-matches, but it fails to engage, and its dullness as a letter to the editor keeps it plodding. "The Red Bow" by far turns the grimmest entry here, a suburban apocalypse as the lives of pets are pitted against the death of a child. It'd make a great short film. "Christmas" stays on the other hand totally realist, as its race and class tensions give a calmer indication of Saunders' willingness to step outside of his familiar funhouse milieu.
"Adams" explores neighborly tensions, but ends rather in a pat fashion.

The third section opens with "Ed" targeting dissenters and naysayers. Those who refuse to go along with the program make these three stories the closest to Vonnegut and these capture a countercultural flavor, not dated in its attitudes, but updated for our wired sensibilities. "93990" briefly considers primate lab experiments in a thoughtful, nearly understated way. "Brad Carrigan, American," tackles ambitiously the complacency of our national greed and our ethnocentric ignorance. Why Brad's backyard morphed and how this tied into his predominance on this reality-TV show remained less than clear to me, but this may be intentional, as the blurred explanations fit into the ultimate fate of the protagonist. The hand of the satirist may be rather heavy in parts of this story, but its conclusion managed to gracefully place this setting within one that recalled many tales of mortality and fate.

Similarly, the title story plunges you into a place reminding me of a Tibetan bardo, a liminal realm of the afterlife. Creatures and characters from ads who have been pitilessly forced perhaps by a divine power or its false similacrum to enact their pummeling and submission to clever animated products (it's hard to describe this!) decide to fight back against their commercial tormenters. It reminded me of a Harlan Ellison story in which people realize they are trapped within a larger, capricious, power's evil consciousness. Jim, "the penisless man," protests as he struggles for enlightenment whether the characters could not join "to devise a more humane approach? An approach in which no one is humiliated, or hurt, or maimed, an approach in which the sacred things in life are no longer appropriated in the service of selling what are, after all, merely---" (171) He's cut off at that moment by a higher power, so his moment of articulation remains attenuated. But, it's as close as we come in this collection to Saunders' defense of the human (even in CGI form?) against the implacable rulers who dominate individual freedom and crush our better selves. Theologically intriguing, it veers into the spiritual after it had begun on an equally inspired parody of commercialized sentiment. The story ends perfectly.

The last two, in part four, take on "Ed" who warns that people must not let their words be used against them. It's ambiguous, as by now "Ed" in this dictum may be taken up on the side of the dissenters, I suspect. "Bohemians" returns to the working-class stagnation of "Christmas." It shares a humble Chicago setting; it's realistic, more nuanced look at two elderly ladies each claiming to be refugees from Eastern European pogroms, and how the boy who tells the story must grapple with what he learns about their pasts. It's comparatively straightforward, and such urban coming-of-age tales make for a respite from the demanding and disorienting fictional worlds that dominate Saunders' imagination.

"Commcomm" returns to the title story's combination of a moral clash that involves supernatural forces along with ghostly characters mingled with institutional power. A daunting mix, this time not the media but the military, as a base faces shutdown and Homeland Security wishes to replace its facilities with its own. The story cannot be summarized further without spoiling the plot, but it marks an advance. Saunders by now can combine his half-humorous, half-poignant depictions of office politics and workplace dissension with his more gruesome indulgences into violence and death, while somehow rising above to a graceful conclusion that again reminded me of an epiphany in a Joyce story, above the paralysis, for once, rather than mired in it.
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18 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Perfect for those new to Saunders., April 27, 2006
This review is from: In Persuasion Nation (Hardcover)
And not only because it is his best work to date. More so, because the stories start out in the realm of reality, albeit Sci-fi/futuristic reality and slowly initiate the reader into the warped world of Saunders. Or, maybe it is only the real world shown, to us, in its true form.

I suggest anyone interested in this book read the first chapter. If it makes you laugh and then hurt and then wonder, I can honestly say you will enjoy the rest of the book. If you read it and wonder what the heck is going on then this is not for you.

Come on in; visit the future, talk to ghosts, and learn what it is to be in existance for "buying".
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16 of 22 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars A book full of fantastic stories, successes and failures both., June 14, 2007
By 
NF Inc. (Gaithersburg, MD) - See all my reviews
This review is from: In Persuasion Nation (Paperback)
George Saunders is a man who - when he wants to - knows his way around a story. One needs look no farther than "Sea Oak," the crown jewel of his last collection of stories, "Pastoralia," to know that Saunders has a way with tapping the plight of contemporary man and owning it completely. When Saunders is on, his stories feel like reading the new classic literature of our generation: stories that will transcend this day that we live in and serve as more than mere snapshots. Other than "Sea Oak," Saunders caught snatches of this same success in the title story and "The End of FIRPO in the World," but was hampered somewhat by a tendency to retreat into the safe space of over-the-top kitsch and narration clouded by rumination.

In "In Persuasion Nation," Saunders demonstrates a frustratiing tendency to write meta-stories: that is, stories tied together by an overwhelming theme, or - worse - message. The first four stories - "I CAN SPEAK!", "My Flamboyant Grandson," "Jon," and "My Amendment" - fall victim to Saunders' willfullness as an author, to varying degrees. "My Amendment" is the worst offender, as a fictional letter that panders to the good common sense of a fictional editorial writer in the fictional letter-writer's attempts to outlaw "Samish-Sex Marriage," an idea that is neither original nor, particularly problemlatically, clever. You can almost hear the grating voice of Saunders, pandering to his audience, trying his very hardest to be endearing but also talk about "serious issues." "I CAN SPEAK!" fails for similar reasons, though it's main problem stems from inhabiting a sort of near-future fictional world ruled by advertisement and technology that Saunders, again, thinks is far more clever than it actually is. The best of this batch is probably "My Flamboyant Gradson," for successfully tapping an actual human connection and relying only heavily of exposition rather than exclusively. "Jon," despite some clever advertisment ideas that I'm sure ad agencies will consider in the coming years, falls just short of being compelling, partly due to length and partly due to Saunders' lack of grace with exposition in his imagined near-future.

But then the good ones start. "The Red Bow" comes out of nowhere and presents a totally feasible situation, alternatively fascinating and terrifying, that thrusts an unlikely hero into the spotlight in a human way that, heretofore in the collection, Saunders had proven himself incapable of achieving. "Christmas," a story about a teenaged youth working as a roofer, is much the same: Saunders is working with familiar clay, but working it in such a simple and appealing way that it doesn't matter. "Adams" is even the best of the trio for its punchiness and position as the shortest of the three - this is a one-two-three combo that left me reeling, and more importantly, wondering where this stuff had been in the first four stories.

The next story, "93990" - a fictional account of a medical experiment on chimps - is not, strictly speaking, a story, but it's miles and miles ahead of the two stories that follow it, stories that make me think that Saunders needs a better editor or a more stringent publisher. "Brad Carrigan, American" is a messy hodgepodge of ideas borrowed from the first three stories in this collection and the story that follows it, and utterly fails to forge any kind of emotion or lasting impression. "In Persuasion Nation" is worse, for its rambling, and its prattling, and its condescension. This is a story that tries to invoke the various characters from advertisements and have us believe that they live on a separate plain, living out their advertisements in an endless loop. When some of the downtrodden rebel, a corner of a wrapper of some fictional energy bar becomes a God-figure and berates a polar bear, who then tries to committ suicide. It's a cute idea, at best, but the execution is sloppy and tedious.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, Saunders then serves up two simply superb stories, in the form of the already-recognized "Bohemians" and the piece de resistance, "CommComm." The former made an appearance in the 2006 "Best American Short Stories" for a reason: it has an instantly timeless feeling to it, is the most effortless of the short stories in this colleciton, and is so apparently liminal so as to be out of place in a collection this self-satisfied. Then there's "CommComm," a story I suspect arose from the title, which manages to glean one of the few interesting ideas from the title story (repeating an experience over and over), turn that on its ear, and then portray two inherently human characters - a man with an incapacitated wife, and a man who clings too tightly to his faith - and humanize the freaking both them, in a way that is bound to break your heart into tiny pieces. When Giff talks about hating himself for pinching his wife, there better be a part of you that snaps off and falls away, or else there's a very real danger that you've become desensitized by the 11 stories that came before it.

"In Persuasion Nation" is too long, and sloppily organized, and poorly imagined, but goddamn if the man can't write a hell of a story when he puts his mind to what works. The last two stories in this collection are bound to be as good as any stories you read this year, and there are others earlier on that can do considerable damage from out of nowhere, too. It's just too bad that his creative leash is so long here; that we have to slog through the fantastically bad to get to the good.
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9 of 12 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars We're already living in persuasion nation, July 14, 2006
By 
Larry Dilg (Van Nuys, CA USA) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: In Persuasion Nation (Hardcover)
This is a fantastic book. Readers of Saunders's work will recognize his style as well as some stories from The New Yorker, Harper's and elsewhere, but that familiarity should just enhance the experience. Nothing is lost in the second or third reading of these pieces except perhaps surprise. And even that quality remains, since his minimalist extravagances keep yielding new meanings even as they strip language down to its most crass and inarticulate forms. The structure of the book is intriguing: the four sections organize the stories thematically, but I could only sense the organization. In this "persuasion nation" advertising and paranoia are fused into a twisted positivism that relies on heedless change, commercial success, and cynical manipulation of political/religious values. It looks like our world of Fox, Botox, and Vioxx, but all restraints have been removed. The corporations have got it all: disorder, chaos, and fear run rampant. And it's all very funny, thanks to the branding, slapstick, dry wit, science and math, love of cliché, and masterful elision. None of this prevents deep sadness from oozing to the surface, either. The characters are flat and blasted, but their predicament is still pathetic enough and their yearning for light, hope, and meaning real enough to elicit our sympathy. While murder and cruelty reign, a spark of humanity still shines through the darkness. The cover picture, which seems to illustrate the end of "jon," is about right: a damaged boy finding a precious flower on stony ground still has the power to move us. When I finished In Persuasion Nation, I didn't feel that I'd been given a key to reality, but I looked at our bloated, terrorized world with a bit more distance and a wry smile. We need all the irony we can get.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars strong collection that's a good place to start with Saunders, June 9, 2008
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This review is from: In Persuasion Nation (Paperback)
Saunders' collections require readers to reorient their viewpoint. often times, you have to reorient your viewpoint at the start of every piece. yet, the worlds often seem to share the same authorities, powers, legal systems, and villains. And, like certain bands -- if you can get into the strange rhythms, suddenly everything will make sense from story to story and even collection to collection.

"I CAN SPEAK!" starts things off with a fantastic letter written in response to a parent complaining about a device that allows children to speak before they know how to speak. The title piece and "CommComm" are the other strong standouts.

Not everything works -- "93990" is nothing more than a gruesome lab report describing the death of numbered animals for the sake of science. While a climax involving a chimp that frees himself from bondage may have crossed a line of natural plot progression, offering nothing more than the current ending (I'll spare the spoiler) leaves the reader wondering why there is so much to read with so little to consider (other then "animal testing sure is awful.")

Similarly, "My Flamboyent Grandson" seems to be undercooked, relying more on the world then the characters to impart some greater statement about individuality. Indeed, Saunders often leaves the power to change in the hands of media/advertising, reducing his characters to reactionary personalities instead of actors. A positive outcome is not necessary for a story or even a collection to work, but the individual pieces could do more then hammer home the idea that certain forces are all-powerful and irresistible and that individuals don't triumph very often.

Saunders isn't always easy but he's often quite fun. If you enjoy a skewed perspective, give this collection a shot.
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7 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saunders delivers, July 23, 2006
This review is from: In Persuasion Nation (Hardcover)
I've read Orwell, I've read Burgess and Huxley and a smattering of satirical short stories...and I never expected the dystopian could be so hysterically funny. His gift for humour, and his uncanny ability to pin down the ridiculous aspects of our current, heavily commercial society, put Saunders in a class all his own. The only weak story I might choose would be 93990 - all other stories were strikingly original, fluently written, and offered a message that went beyond mere wordplay. An extremely strong collection of stories that everyone should read.
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7 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life in America Tomorrow, August 29, 2006
This review is from: In Persuasion Nation (Hardcover)
George Saunders is a unique social satirist, and his stories of regular people with weird problems subversively highlight the outlandish states toward which our society is headed. Saunders' treatments of the dark side of American consumerism and family values seem goofy on the surface but are strangely disconcerting. Many of the short and snappy stories in this volume deal with the personal damage caused by consumerism and entertainment run amuck. Cheesy gratification trumps parental enjoyment in "I CAN SPEAK(TM)," while "Jon" shows the emotional costs of relentless product placement and continuous network feedback. Several other stories, such as "The Red Bow," "Adams," and "Commcomm"" show caring people committing crimes or contributing to social inequality by trying to maintain the personal values that are held so dear by their society. Meanwhile, Saunders takes regular swipes at our culture's obsession with entertainment and short-term fulfillment, and that's the focus of this book's best stories. The bizarre "Brad Carrigan, American" is told from within a reality show that keeps becoming more and more brutal, based on continuously collected ratings information, with "real" reality show people becoming unreal products of audience whims. Meanwhile, the goofy but sensitive "In Persuasion Nation" is told from the point of view of characters in commercials who know they're contributing to their culture's decline into shallow consumerism, with no appreciation for the social and human consequences. In his stories of humans being forced by culture and business into inhumanity, Saunders offers great views of humanity's near future, from which it just might emerge victorious. Maybe. [~doomsdayer520~]
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In Persuasion Nation
In Persuasion Nation by George Saunders (Paperback - March 6, 2007)
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