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Pastoralia Paperback – June 1, 2001


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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: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (99 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #17,615 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

Both are likely to make you laugh out loud.
LennE
I will admit it: I'm a big Saunders fan after reading this collection of short stories.
Johannus Climactus
The characters are unlikable or worse just passive and flat.
D. Magnani

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

32 of 34 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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29 of 36 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.
Read more ›
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24 of 30 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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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Bradford Parks on June 22, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I finished this book last night and have to say this is one the best books I've read this year. The stories are all about lower-middle-class people with real problems, so real in fact that much of the book is very, very sad, but also very beautiful. Because ultimately what the author is trying to say about these people and these situations is Hey, wake up, look around you, see what's happening, and realize that the world around us has to change. The stories are funny, and true, and many of them are not only excellent stories beautifully written, but are obviously metaphorical and applicable to our real lives, no matter how absurd they may seem on the surface.
I would highly recommend this book. If it gives you any indication, Saunders is on equal footing with other current gifted writers such as David Foster Wallace, Thom Jones, and T.C. Boyle.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Jason A. Newman on May 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Saunders is back with a new collection and shows no sign of slacking. There are some great stories published here in this collection (many of them previously published in the New Yorker). If you don't already know Saunders, I envy you your moment of discovery. This literary genius's work pulled the proverbial rug out from under my feet the first time I read such stories of his as "CivilWarLand in Bad Decline" and "Downtrodden Mary's Failed Campaign of Terror." In this collection, "Sea Oak," "Winky," and the title story stand out as exemplary contemporary fictions. Buy this book! and buy _CivilWarLand in Bad Decline_ if you haven't already!
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