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Pastoralia Paperback


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Riverhead Trade; Reissue edition (June 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1573228729
  • ISBN-13: 978-1573228725
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.1 x 0.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (94 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,530 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In both his acclaimed debut, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, and his second collection, Pastoralia, George Saunders imagines a near future where capitalism has run amok. Consumption and the service economy rule the earth. The Haves are grotesque beings, mutilated by their crass desires and impossible wealth. The Have Nots are no less crippled, both emotionally and physically, by their inferior status. It's a kind of Westworld scenario, but instead of robots, the serving wenches, bellboys, and extras are real people, all of them mercilessly indentured by the free market.

Sounds like bleak stuff, doesn't it? Yet Saunders handles his characters with grace and humor. In the title story, for example, a couple occupies a squalid corner of a human zoo, where they act out a parody of caveman times, communicating in grunts and hand motions (speaking is instantly punishable by the Orwellian management) and conducting their lives during 15-minute smoke breaks. In "Winky," a born loser (really, all of Saunders's characters are born losers) visits a self-help seminar, where he's encouraged to rid himself of all those people who are "crapping in your oatmeal." Exhilarated at the prospect of dumping his simple, crazy-haired, religion-besotted sister, he returns home to the bleak discovery that he needs her as much as she needs him. The protagonist of "Sea Oak" works as a stripper in an aviation-themed restaurant and lives next to a crack house with his unemployed sisters, their babies, and a sweet old maid of an aunt. The aunt dies, and then returns from the grave--not so sweet, now, and still decomposing--with strange powers and a sobering message:

You ever been in the grave? It sucks so bad! You regret all the things you never did. You little bitches are going to have a very bad time in the grave unless you get on the stick, believe me!
The characters and situations in the rest of Pastoralia are equally wretched. But Saunders rescues them from utter despair with a loving belief in the triumph of the human spirit: yes, things can always get worse, but worse is better than the cold dirt of the grave. And in the small space between wretchedness and death there is plenty of room for laughter, and even love. --Tod Nelson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Saunders's extraordinary talent is in top form in his second collection (after CivilWarLand in Bad Decline), in which his vision of a hellishly (and hopefully) exaggerated dystopia of late capitalist America is warmed and impassioned by his regular, irregular and flat-out wacky characters. Merging the spirit of James Thurber with the world of the Simpsons, Saunders's five stories and title novella feature protagonists who are losers yet also innocent dreamers: in "Winky," a single guy lives with his sister but hopes to improve his life with his new self-help cult's mantra, "Now is the time for me to win!" The tales pit bleak existences with details so contemporary they're futuristic, as in "Pastoralia," where the narrator is a "re-enactor" who lives in a cave as part of an exhibit in the Pastoralia theme park. Authenticity demands that he speak no English, pretend to draw pictographs on the wall and eat goat. His cave partner, Janet, is driving him crazy, because she uses English, smokes and hates goat; meanwhile, the clumsy, bullying management leans on the narrator to testify against her. In "Sea Oak," the narrator is a beleaguered male stripper who lives with his Aunt Bernie and two other relatives, both clueless, young single mothers whose dialogue consists of trashy talk-show vernacular. They eke out their lives in foggy complacency until the pathetically passive Bernie dies and comes back to life to boss around the household: "I never got nothing! My life was shit! I was never even up in a freaking plane." These characters may not have much, but they do possess the author's compassion, and so are enigmas of decency enshrouded in dark, TV-hobbled dumbness. Saunders, with a voice unlike any other writer's, makes these losers funny, plausible and absolutely winning. (May)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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

I finished this book last night and have to say this is one the best books I've read this year.
Bradford Parks
Saunders has such a bizarre and funny take on life - he is able to make the sad and bleak funny, without making fun of the characters.
Aaron Tell
PASTORALIA, which published in 2000, is the second collection of Saunders's stories that I've read.
Ethan Cooper

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

29 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Susan O'Neill on February 5, 2003
Format: Paperback
The first story in this book, the title story, grabbed me immediately. I laughed aloud, delighted at the inventiveness of Saunders' depiction of the corporate culture, as seen through the eyes of a poor working stiff in the pre-historic-land exhibit of a theme park. And really, be it a cubicle or a cave, corporate jargon or grunts and gestures, the author reinforces a universal truth: we are a flawed species, and when pressed, we default to some very strange, very typical behavior. His characters are both bizarre and entirely recognizable: so many hapless, imperfect souls stuck in an even more imperfect world, trying to find happiness in spite of themselves--even, in one case, in spite of being dead. As Pogo was known to say, "We have met the enemy, and he is us." Saunders' sense of humor elevates our mundane dance with discontent to a charming, hilarious, sad, familiar but refreshing jig.
Susan O'Neill
Author: Don't Mean Nothing: Short Stories of Viet Nam
(Ballantine Books, 2001)
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful By Colin Dobin on May 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
George Saunders is weird and then some. The America in his short stories is light years away from the picture postcard vision of sun-drenched cornfields swaying in the wind.
In the short story that gives the book its title, Pastoralia is the sort of theme park that would give Disney executives a heart attack. Visitors see people as they lived in past epochs, such as the couple who play Neanderthal cave dwellers, daubing prehistoric paintings on walls, making unintelligible grunting noises and roasting goats. But, there are few visitors to the park and the "cavewoman" Janet is cracking up under the pressure of mounting debts and a drug-addicted son.
She downs a bottle of Jack Daniels bourbon and starts using the sort of expletives no Neanderthal man would know.
In the best and funniest story, Sea Oak, a down-at-heel, bickering family tries to make ends meet in a housing estate that gives new meaning to the term concrete jungle. They spend most of their time mindlessly watching television. The stations have run out of Worst Accidents or When Animals Attack videos and have to resort to The Worst That Could Happen, a half-hour of computer simulations of tragedies that have never happened but theoretically could. A child hit by a train is catapulted into a zoo, where he's eaten by wolves. A man cuts off his hand chopping wood and while staggering screaming for help is picked up by a tornado and dropped on a preschool during recess and lands on a pregnant teacher.
Sea Oak is a modern parable. The family's dead granny comes back from the grave to tell them to get their act together but, unlike the ghosts of Christmas past, present and future, she just won't go away, but sits putrefying in her favourite armchair.
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22 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 19, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I found this collection almost physically disabling it was so good. I finshed "Sea Oak" and walked around bumping into doorways and shaking my head and laughing and muttering out loud. I don't think stories get any better than "Sea Oak." That story will stand the test of time and should be anthologized widely, although it will take a brave editor to include it. Saunders insists on making his characters think and question. This collection is ruled, always, by a heartfelt cry for decency in a world that seems to have misplaced that trait somewhere. The stories shape themselves around decency. You finish them and you are a better person, and that is as good a definition of high art as any I know. Not only that, Saunders is the most original writer to come along since Cormac McCarthy; it's a voice that can be instantly marked and identified. These stories are filled with a horrific beauty.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By A. Ross HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 17, 2006
Format: Paperback
This collection of six stories was my first exposure to Saunders, and it strikes me that the format and context probably wasn't the best for enjoying his sharp writing. I believe all of these stories originally appeared in magazines, and the problem is that by reading one a day over the course of a week, the similarities in setting, tone, theme, character become glaringly obvious. This doesn't mean the writing isn't good, but the collectivization of these stories certainly robs each of its individual power.

The book opens with the title story, which at almost 70 pages, is really more of a novella. It's narrated by a historic reenactor who lives as a caveman in a kind of diorama for the entertainment/education at an odd theme park. From nightly faxes we learn of his exhausted wife, deathly ill son, and the mounting medical bills which are his reason for this rather extreme form of employment. The real tension derives from his "partner", a blowsy "cavewoman" who has plenty of problems of her own, but can't be bothered to stay entirely within character during working hours. Rambling corporate memos start to appear, warning of layoffs, and the narrator has to decide whether or not to snitch on his coworker. The underlying message of this parable is that modern capitalism places many of us in ridiculous meaningless jobs where we are constantly pitted against each other. Message received.

The second story, "Winky", is probably my favorite in the book. We meet a shlub of a single guy as he attends a cheezy self-help seminar whose catchphrase is "Now is the time for me to win!
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