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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saunders hits another one out of the park
Another winner from one of contemporary literature's funniest and most original writers. If you're a fan of Saunders's previous story collections -- "Pastoralia" and "Civilwarland in Bad Decline" -- you'll read this in one sitting, and then immediately start all over again. (At least that's what I did.) If you're unfamiliar with Saunders and enjoy surreal, topical...
Published on September 6, 2005 by Voice of Chunk

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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Whoa...
First, I'll say that George Saunders' two short story collections are two of my favorite books. I've reread them more times than I can count. I also go to the trouble of tracking down his new short stories as they appear in various periodicals. I'm a pretty enthusiastic admirer. So I went straight down to the bookstore and bought it on the day it was released. And...
Published on September 26, 2005 by Barnettt


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25 of 28 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Whoa..., September 26, 2005
By 
Barnettt (Brooklyn, NY United States) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Paperback)
First, I'll say that George Saunders' two short story collections are two of my favorite books. I've reread them more times than I can count. I also go to the trouble of tracking down his new short stories as they appear in various periodicals. I'm a pretty enthusiastic admirer. So I went straight down to the bookstore and bought it on the day it was released. And then I returned it the next day. I couldn't finish it (and it's only about a hundred smallish pages.) It read like a pretty cliched book for children written in an imitation of Saunders' voice. For those who are familiar with Saunders' work, I would say: Read the first ten pages or so in the store to get an idea of what this is. To those unfamiliar with this author, I would say: Pick up either "Civilwarland in Bad Decline" or "Pastoralia"; this book is definitely not representative of this man's talent.
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28 of 34 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saunders hits another one out of the park, September 6, 2005
This review is from: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Paperback)
Another winner from one of contemporary literature's funniest and most original writers. If you're a fan of Saunders's previous story collections -- "Pastoralia" and "Civilwarland in Bad Decline" -- you'll read this in one sitting, and then immediately start all over again. (At least that's what I did.) If you're unfamiliar with Saunders and enjoy surreal, topical fiction, this is one you should definitely check out. The critics' default comparison to "Animal Farm" is not entirely inaccurate as Saunders does seem to favor the absurd allegory over traditional realism, but don't assume that he's a second-rate Orwell imitator. For one thing, his stories are infused with more pathos and heart than Orwell's, and more hope than Vonnegut's (another frequent comparison). In short, if the top writers working in America today were to play a game of king of the mountain, Saunders would have a good shot at pushing others off the peak. But if the handling of his subject matter is any indication of how Saunders regards his fellow man, instead of pushing he'd extend his hand and help pull others to the top, all the while making sure everyone had enough room and a steady foothold. Buy and enjoy.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars reminds me of something.., October 2, 2005
By 
Dr. Eigenvalue (Montreal, Canada) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Paperback)
In George Saunders's latest work, a plain-speaking dimwit (Phil) takes control of a prosperous nation, Outer Horner, by dubious means. Phil has a long-standing personal grudge against a nation called Inner Horner, which is poor and completely defenseless. After deliberately misleading the people of Outer Horner about the threat posed by Inner Horner, Phil launches an unprovoked military assault on the citizens of Inner Horner. The ones that aren't killed are enclosed in a barbed-wire prison, stripped of clothing and deprived of sleep. The hapless media organizations of Outer Horner are only able to repeat mindless slogans in support of their leader, who condemns anyone who opposes him as unpatriotic.

Fans of Saunders's previous work will enjoy the oddball style and content of this "novella," which is actually more like a lengthy short story. His writing style really is unusual and creative, and here he makes up in part for the lack of text with some nifty hand drawings. Not a bad way to spend an hour.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Twain+Capek+Seuss=Saunders, January 22, 2013
By 
This review is from: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Paperback)
Often hilarious, certainly timely, and übersilly, "The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil" is an inoffensive antidote for the urge to indulge ourselves in shallow patriotism, jingoism, or gloating at the supposed superiority of ourselves and our culture.

Try an experiment: read "Phil" and then watch the evening news - on any channel - and see if you don't experience certain physical effects stemming from the concoction: a)the shivers at the terrifying similarities of good satire & reality, and b) nausea at the inanity currently passing itself off as enlightened public discourse.

Saunders has put together a solid if occasionally superficial (for me, a requirement of a well-constructed allegory) critique of what happens when a great society goes about - seemingly at will - losing its grip on what makes it authentically great. I found that one of the most frightening aspects of this little satire was that the degraded state of the current public rhetoric - catchphrases wrapped in soundbytes oozing with platitudes - seems to have made writing "Phil" entirely too easy for Saunders. The book is easy to read and yet provides a valuable check for how we frame our remarks about what is wrong - or right - with our culture.

In short, if you think you might enjoy an entree cooked by Mark Twain and then spiced by Karel Capek and finally smothered in some nonsensical mystery sauce that Dr. Seuss whipped up, then what George Saunders is serving up in "Phil" just may be for you.

Recommended to readers anywhere where folks need to rediscover how beneficial it is to be able to laugh at yourself.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Love life, walk in a circle, learn to enjoy coffee!, November 18, 2005
This review is from: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Paperback)
like its setting, "The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil" is small. this shouldn't be too much of a surprise considering that saunders's two other major works have been short story collections, but one wonders why this story wasn't included in a collection rather than being sold as a stand-alone piece. in this reviewer's humble opinion, it does not merit the $10 price, even for the lovely illustrations. as for content, the story is a kind of surrealist satire involving a man with a brain problem (in that half the time he doesn't have one) gaining control of an entire landscape, and the chaos that he initiates. there are some piercing observations here, a hilarious take on modern media, and extremely inventive ideas for characters made of a combination of organic and mechanical materials. there are some funny moments (toward the end, phil begins to experience a kind of linguistic spasm in which his speech becomes jumbled, perhaps the one moment that evokes our current president most strongly), and the ending is poignant without being overdone. saunders is an extremely deft writer but the story was not fleshed out or given enough attention to warrant being its own book. I would recommend reading something else of his first.
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5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The More Things Change, The More They Stay The Same, December 15, 2005
This review is from: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Paperback)
This is an amazingly imaginative piece of social and political satire. It could be set anywhere, at anytime, although at first it seems far away and somewhere in the decaying future. However, as I read it I couldn't help but feel that the plot has taken place many times and in many places. While I enjoyed the humor and satire, in the end I was sad to know that the same story is happening HERE and NOW. Saunders' totally outrageous setting, characters and plot are not only creative and hilarious, but they allow us to see past the surface features of today's world and into the fundamental nature of humans and society. Reading this utterly unpredictable yet somehow familiar tale, I could not help thinking, "When will we ever learn?" Although one reviewer was dissappointed that the book was short, I will propose that less is more here. Saunders conveys everything you need to know. Want to hear a delightful and unexpected yarn? Read about Phil. I'm sure you already know him. You will know him even better after this reading.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Saunders' Most Daring Book Yet, October 1, 2005
By 
Jen (Newton, MA USA) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Paperback)
This isn't the kind of book you'd expect from an esteemed college professor and New Yorker writer. In fact, it kind of rejects the conventions of what fiction is supposed to be. It's literary, but with important graphical elements. It's funny, but the subject matter is life-and-death, future-of-existence serious. It's an allegory (I've been told), but it could be about any number of real-life events, and doesn't easily fit any of them. It's a book we're supposed to take seriously, but it's barely 100 pages long. Oh, and Saunders' eerily precise writing makes the characters live and breathe, but they aren't... human. Frankly, Saunders has taken a lot of risks here. And I'm happy to report that they all pay off. This is a reading experience unlike any other I've ever encountered, and I have a feeling it's going to stay with me for a long time. This is the kind of book that changes the way you think about and look at the world, even if it is about... belt buckles.
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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The Brief and Misleadingly Packaged Novella of Phil, October 11, 2005
This review is from: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Paperback)
If this is the 21st Century's Animal Farm, then Spongebob Squarepants is the 21st Century's 1984. It has several funny moments, but...at what price? Well, at $13, according to the publisher.

I love Saunders's short stories, and "Phil" would not be out of place in a forthcoming collection of his work. But as a standalone edition, it's overpriced; I could see paying the premium for a limited, collectible small press edition. But while this is a book, it is no more a novel than Nicholson Baker's Checkpoint: A Novel. (Baker's book is a bigger offender, in the sense that it actually has the gall to call itself "A Novel"...whereas Saunders's publishers tiptoe around and call this "a fable.")

Other readers recommend you sample this in the bookshop before buying it. I would warn that if you start sampling it, you will probably end up having read the whole thing before your feet begin to tire or the clerks start asking you to buy something. This is only partly a testament to Saunders's prose. For as a product, priced similarly to other fatter trade paperbacks, this is either a skimpy novella or a heavily padded short story.

Glancing at Saunders's essay about the origin of the piece, I see that it started in response to a challenge by Lane Smith. Now I really feel cheated! A collectible small press edition with color illustrations by Lane Smith would be worth a lot more than $13. And Saunders could still have included it in his next collection of short stories.

Full disclosure: I borrowed my copy from the library.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brief and Fantastic, January 24, 2013
By 
This review is from: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Paperback)
A brief, blunt-force American satire you can zip through in thirty minutes. George Saunders spits our worst behaviors and browns them over a fire of strange. This is the first of his work I've read, apart from a short story from his new collection online. Excited to pick that up now.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Brief & Frightening Reign of Phil, November 3, 2006
By 
This review is from: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (Paperback)
An extraordinarily powerful small book that satirizes the nativist protectionism now rampant in many parts of the world in such an amusing manner that even nativists could read it. I was so taken with the opening paragraph that I read it aloud to my wife and 10 year old son. The result: for the next 4 nights we gathered and I read the complete book aloud. A gem.
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The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil
The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil by George Saunders (Paperback - September 6, 2005)
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