From Publishers Weekly
Best known for his absurdist, sci-fi–tinged short stories, Saunders (In Persuasion Nation
) offers up an assortment of styles in his first nonfiction collection. Humor pieces from the New Yorker
like Ask the Optimist, in which a newspaper advice column spins out of control, reflect the gleeful insanity of his fiction, while others display more earnestness, falling short of his best work. In the title essay, for example, his lament over the degraded quality of American media between the trial of O.J. Simpson and the 9/11 terrorist attacks is indistinguishable from the complaints of any number of cultural commentators. Fortunately, longer travel pieces written for GQ
, where Saunders wanders through the gleaming luxury hotels of Dubai or keeps an overnight vigil over a teenage boy meditating in the Nepalese jungle, are enriched by his eye for odd detail and compassion for the people he encounters. He also discusses some of his most important literary influences, including Slaughterhouse Five
and Johnny Tremain
(he holds up the latter as my first model of beautiful compression—the novel that made him want to be a writer). Despite a few rough spots, these essays contain much to delight. (Sept. 8)
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George Saunders’s Braindead Megaphone
uses the fiction author’s trademark ability to, as the Boston Globe
puts it, "convert his sorrow about mankind into exquisite comedies of disappointment" and applies it to the sometimes surreal and often discomfiting world around him. While most critics appreciate Saunders’s attempt to provide a counterpoint to America’s vitriol-filled but ultimately meaningless media punditry, both the Los Angeles Times
and the New York Times
ridicule his humanistic approach as naïve and overly optimistic. One’s reaction to Saunders’ essays seems to hinge largely on one’s acceptance of his liberal perspective, his faith in the power of narrative, and his primary assertion that "the stories we choose to consume take our measure as a species" (Boston Globe
Copyright © 2004 Phillips & Nelson Media, Inc.