george saunders

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Sorry, cutty, I don't know anything about George Saunders. George Sanders though, is classic.

k/l (Ken L), Wednesday, 7 September 2005 17:39 (eighteen years ago) link

Novella! He's working his way up the length-ladder ...

I could go on and on about him, but weirdly enough I think I'm going to sit back and wait for other people to say stuff about him and then come back and be all like "no you're wrong only I truly understand George Saunders."

We should probably have some sort of poll on how conflicted we feel about Saunders working on a Ben Stiller version of CivilWarLand.

nabisco (nabisco), Wednesday, 7 September 2005 17:40 (eighteen years ago) link

i know stiller bought the rights to civilwarland, but it seems that the project has fell by the wayside? regardless, i feel saunders's stories should be made into a movie collectively, little short films, as opposed to trying to stretch one of his stories into a full-length film.

saunders is my FAVORITE contemporary author, hands down, and he hasn't even written a novel. i don't care if he isnt capable of writing one.

anyone who hasn't read civilwarland in bad decline needs to get to the bookstore immediately!

cutty (mcutt), Wednesday, 7 September 2005 18:34 (eighteen years ago) link

ahh.. george. going to buy this book today.

cutty (mcutt), Wednesday, 7 September 2005 18:42 (eighteen years ago) link

The thing that I keep thinking whenever I read Saunders' stories (and I've only read a few) is how UGLY his language is. I mean, it's totally colloquial, and I get that, but never in an unexpected-beauty-of-the-colloquial way: it always just seems like a long dump. I don't know whether I like this or not.

jaymc (jaymc), Wednesday, 7 September 2005 21:17 (eighteen years ago) link

I have a bad feeling about this novella. Whatever GS is good at, I'm not sure it's political allegory. I fear the mawkish Buddhist in him coming too far to the fore.

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Wednesday, 7 September 2005 22:01 (eighteen years ago) link

Ben Stiller version of CivilWarLand I have said this before but I'm really excited about this! I hope it hasn't fallen by the wayside - Ben Stiller y'all!

Gravel Puzzleworth (Gregory Henry), Wednesday, 7 September 2005 22:02 (eighteen years ago) link

it always just seems like a long dump

he uses different techniques in every story, and they are never particularly pleasant. EVERY one of his stories i have ever read has been disorienting at first, but once you get a grasp of the syntax he is using, you can ease into it...

i don't think he ever intends his language to be aesthetically beautiful.

cutty (mcutt), Wednesday, 7 September 2005 23:58 (eighteen years ago) link

this is very good - george writing on how he pares down a sentence.

http://books.guardian.co.uk/departments/generalfiction/story/0,6000,1440901,00.html

i like Saunders. his language is not "beautiful" but he can capture an image so cleanly and directly that it gives you a jolt and that's where the beauty lies.

take the murder scene from "Isabelle":

Officer Doyle said let's interrogate. Split Lip said i'll show you interrogation. He pushed the teen into the lagoon and held him under. With his club Doyle made Norris watch. The teen's hands slapped and slapped. Then Split Lip stood up and the dead teen floated.

that's the whole scene! that's utterly incredible to me, so much achieved so simply. the scene in "the Wavemaker Falters" where the boy gets churned up in the blades of the wave machine works in a similar way.

his stories are interesting because his cold language seems at odds with his love and empathy for the characters - it verges on sentimentality at times (and i mean that as a compliment). e.g. the point in "Isabelle" where the narrator reveals Boneless's real name "a pretty, pretty name". or in "Civilwarland..." where the narrator gets stabbed right at the end of the story and he thinks of his children and his wife "Sweet Evelyn... i should have loved you better" before hovering over his own death scene (as a ghost) and seeing the traumas his own killer endured as a child. it's breathtaking.

also, he's very funny!

jed_ (jed), Thursday, 8 September 2005 01:20 (eighteen years ago) link

what i mean to say is that his under the coldness of the language is a level of tenderness that's really surprising.

i never finished the novella in "Civilwarland..." though.

jed_ (jed), Thursday, 8 September 2005 01:24 (eighteen years ago) link

where the narrator gets stabbed right at the end of the story and he thinks of his children and his wife "Sweet Evelyn... i should have loved you better" before hovering over his own death scene (as a ghost) and seeing the traumas his own killer endured as a child. it's breathtaking.

it's not often a book can give me chills or make me feel emotional. this scene especially did that to me the first time i read it.

cutty (mcutt), Thursday, 8 September 2005 01:54 (eighteen years ago) link

I think he's a great writer in a lot of ways. When I first discovered him (I think it was a story called "I Can Speak" in the New Yorker) it felt revelatory. Since then having read a bunch of other stories, I've started to find him a little predictable - you start out feeling disoriented in a fantastic world and then as you gain your footing you find the world less and less fantastic and more and more ... LIKE OUR OWN! Still, something very original about the way he does it. And he has a real ear for the ugliness of everyday language.

Hurting (Hurting), Thursday, 8 September 2005 02:50 (eighteen years ago) link

Oh, but of course it was called "I Can Speak!TM"

Hurting (Hurting), Thursday, 8 September 2005 03:25 (eighteen years ago) link

Oh yeah, that was in an all-fiction issue a few years ago, wasn't it? I've liked pretty much everything of his I've seen in the New Yorker except for something that came out just after 9/11, which still felt like a rough draft.

pr00de, where's my car? (pr00de), Thursday, 8 September 2005 03:42 (eighteen years ago) link

Not ugly language! Beautiful language! I am too hungry to explain and I have a bad habit of doing advance publicity for my own posts but I swear to god, once I've got some friend chicken in me I'm totally going off on this.

nabisco (nabisco), Thursday, 8 September 2005 15:19 (eighteen years ago) link

Loved loved loved the story with the cave people and their fax machine.

The Mad Puffin (The Mad Puffin), Thursday, 8 September 2005 15:29 (eighteen years ago) link

Okay but so the thing with Saunders prose is that no, it's not conventionally(Jaymc)lovely prose -- which, given the fact that he normally chooses miserably sub-average first-person narrators, is kind of to be expected; on that front I'd even say the quality of his bottom-level spare-type narration is actually much better than that of Carver-style blankness. But but of course it's not in the bottom-level narration where Saunders' approach to language is really doing its work. The most striking parts of what he can do come out in dialogue, and one of the best things about his approach is that it can read both as accessible and funny and/or brilliantly observant. The guy has a terrific ear for how people actually talk, which is to say not just an ear for dialogue but a much larger sense: he's super-interested in the way everyday communication is essentially filled with jargon, the way that people don't compose their own speech so much as just string together catchphrases and commonplaces to create meaning.

But the thing is that he's not just making fun of that kind of speech, and not just satirizing the "ugliness" of it -- in the end, George is always-always big bleeding-heart empathizer, and at his best he uses that language to cut right into how his characters think, and what they're all about. "Sea Oak" is terrific for that: there's a rich uncle who spouts optimistic banalities about hard work in such a way that you feel he believes it, you understand him -- and even better, when the aunt's grave is desecrated, Saunders pegs the entire role of the policeman simply by putting question marks at the end of his sentences. (I wish I had the book here to quote: I think he says "Typically we find it's teens?" and in that question mark you hear everything -- the desire to be helpful and reassuring, and the complete powerlessness to actually be helpful and reassuring.) Saunders really gets into this kind of language stuff whenever he dips into the language of work, hence my love of the first of his "Four Institutional Monologues," which is possibly another issue.

But just language itself, just the sheer joy of doing gorgeous things with the words -- he's kind of got it, even if it's in his own way. He loves our twisted commonplace constructions ("I personally would love that and you know that. . . . But who would not love that is our landlord"), he loves constructions that make sense even though they shouldn't ("too much grief, as we all know, is excessive"), and above all he love-love-loves the language of exhortation and the inevitable rhetorical questions that come along with it: half of the characters in his stories speak in nearly nothing but strings of rhetorical questions. (E.g., the self-improvement speaker: "Now, if someone came up and crapped in your nice warm oatmeal, what would you say? Would you say: 'Wow, super, thanks, please continue crapping in my oatmeal'? Am I being silly? I'm being a little silly. But guess what, in real life people come up and crap in your oatmeal all the time -— friends, co-workers, loved ones, even your kids, especially your kids! -— and that's exactly what you do. You say, 'Thanks so much!' You say, 'Crap away!' You say, and here my metaphor breaks down a bit, 'Is there some way I can help you crap in my oatmeal?'"

And so there you have Saunders-characters in a world of that, and consider this: who else really writes with as much of a moral attachment to banal everyday American life? Oh, yes, he's funny, but the fact is that something like 80% of his first two books consisted of stories about the same thing: people working terrible jobs for necessary money, and making moral decisions about where exactly that becomes a problem. (The other 20% = people who can't get other people to like them!) And the worthwhile thing about this guy has far less to do with the language than it has to do with his skill in making those concerns work, with getting that big bleeding heart to function perfectly in a shocking number of his stories. On the surface, they seem like they might be jokes about schlubs and grotesques and comical losers in comical situations, but they near-immediately become about genuine moral crisis, and the last story in Pastoralia feels like the best indicator of exactly that: it gives us the comical schlub, running through his everday fantasies of people actually liking him for a change, and then he spots two girls trapped in a canoe and about to tip over a waterfall, and the damn thing ends with him stripping down to swim out and try to save them, thinking as he does it that he'll never make it there, he'll obviously drown. That's the moral life of the Saunders character, really, and it comes up in little details everywhere -- I'm looking over "Sea Oak" online and it's everywhere, in the sad bitterness of the zombie aunt, but most of all in a little reminiscence of a high-school girlfriend: "Angela had dreams. She had plans. In her notebook she pasted a picture of an office from the J. C. Penney catalogue and under it wrote, My (someday?) office." Lovely! What more empathy do you want for basic human hopes and dreams than that! And so how exactly like life does it seem that the only other thing Angela writes, a break-up note, begins with just a string of cliches: "You will always be my first love. . . . But now my path converges to a higher ground. Be well always. Walk in joy."

And so yes, I love Saunders, because the more that I think about it, the better of an idea he seems. He sees the modern world and modern language in a way that's unique but at the same time easily-accessible to everyone else around him. He's base-level funny enough to potentially be incredibly super-popular, which would be a terrific thing for literature. And if it happened, we wouldn't even have to complain about how he's a bad candidate for it, because he isn't: inside his stuff is a writerly moral sense and a genuine gut-level sense of meaning that do things other media have lots of trouble with.

nabisco (nabisco), Thursday, 8 September 2005 17:54 (eighteen years ago) link

Great post. Btw, I wasn't complaining exactly about Saunders's use of language. It's sort of fascinating to me. You bring up Carver, and it reminds me of a sentence of Carver's I always liked, a line of dialogue in "What's in Alaska?": "I know what would taste good, and that's some cream soda." I don't know why that line resonated with me, but it has something to do with the banality and also the slightly strange syntax -- which actually isn't that strange, when you think about it, except we rarely see things written out that way.

jaymc (jaymc), Thursday, 8 September 2005 22:20 (eighteen years ago) link

That in turn reminds me of the David Berman poem about the guys who have been looking forward to a beer all day.

Hurting (Hurting), Friday, 9 September 2005 00:06 (eighteen years ago) link

amazing

Gravel Puzzleworth (Gregory Henry), Friday, 9 September 2005 05:44 (eighteen years ago) link

"Isabelle" is as stupendous a story as I'm aware of from the last 40 years or so. Blunt and pure.

New Yorkers, Saunders doing a reading at the Chelsea 6th Ave B&N this Monday.

Dr Morbius (Dr Morbius), Friday, 9 September 2005 13:38 (eighteen years ago) link

FAR?

Hurting (Hurting), Friday, 9 September 2005 13:49 (eighteen years ago) link

No, it's just a couple blocks from the subway.

jaymc (jaymc), Friday, 9 September 2005 17:15 (eighteen years ago) link

haha! i read civilwarland at some point ages ago and enjoyed it, but ultimately got bogged down in the similarity of the stories. this is maybe an issue with all collections of short stories - of which i don't really read that many - but this was maybe more extreme than others i can think of, and felt a little more gimmicky. the first story hit me hard but then diminishing returns, predictability, etc. regardless, i really like nabisco's observations about his language and empathy, so i should maybe revisit it.

dave k, Saturday, 10 September 2005 19:47 (eighteen years ago) link

I think it's possible that many short story collections do have a lot of similar stories, but it becomes more obvious when a writer like George Saunders has such a unique style and uses a certain kind of attention-getting conceit for a lot of his stories.

Hurting (Hurting), Saturday, 10 September 2005 20:15 (eighteen years ago) link

nabisco, i love you!

cutty (mcutt), Monday, 12 September 2005 15:15 (eighteen years ago) link

according to ddb, he was on NPR today. got to get the podcast.

cutty (mcutt), Monday, 12 September 2005 18:05 (eighteen years ago) link

http://wnyc.vo.llnwd.net/o1/lopate/lopate091205d.mp3

cutty (mcutt), Monday, 12 September 2005 21:50 (eighteen years ago) link

There's a great interview with George Saunders in the 11th issue of the believer. One of the best things abut writing that I've ever read. Not that I've read too many things about writing.

jhoshea (scoopsnoodle), Tuesday, 13 September 2005 02:46 (eighteen years ago) link

So now that y'all have piqued our interest, did any of you go to that reading?

k/l (Ken L), Tuesday, 13 September 2005 12:45 (eighteen years ago) link

I think Saunders can be brilliant and rubbish in equal measure. My favourite piece of his was that salesman monologue "I Can Speak" in "The Burned Children of America". I thought "Pastoralia" was patchy: I mean, two stories about theme-park life! I know people who rave about "Sea Oak", and it sure does capture demotic speech in a rare way, but at bottom it's a fantasy story about a woman who literally falls to bits (OK, some might call that "magic realism"; I call it whimsy; James Wood calls it "hysterical realism"). I read a terrible story (or was it non-fiction?) online in which Saunders waxed embarrassingly sentimental about a former co-worker of his. Saunders is a genuine talent, but a narrow talent, surely.

All Bunged Up (Jake Proudlock), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 12:59 (eighteen years ago) link

Yeah, Winky and the Barber's Unhappiness in Pastoralia cover pretty similar ground, which is unfortunate when there are only, what? Six, seven stories in the book?

pr00de, where's my car? (pr00de), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 15:39 (eighteen years ago) link

I don't think "Sea Oak" would in the slightest fall into Woods' hysterical-realism cadre; maybe the zombie gesture itself comes close, but if something like that qualifies then a disturbing number of gestures from the whole history of literature are suddenly getting sucked into this category. I don't think it's entirely useful to call it magic realism, either, unless the idea is to expose how bankrupt the current concept of magic realism is -- i.e., when Latin Americans write stories in which folkloric things "actually happen" it's magic realism, but when Americans write stories in which American-folkloric things (like B-movie zombies) "actually happen," it's not. Are Aimee Bender and Kafka magic realists? And if so, doesn't the term begin to mean "anything that's not entirely naturalistic?"

Anyway: I dunno if it's a story of a woman "going to pieces," since the whole point of it lies in the opposite surface impression -- that she comes back collected, functional, no-nonsense, and full of plans. She also comes back a monster. So I don't know if "to pieces" is a very good way of putting it: she's more of an exaggerated shade of the uncle (or stepfather?), whose success seems to have come at the expense of something that the narrator would prefer to hold on to. A lot of Saunders' stories are very similar, but there's actually a level on which I like seeing him work with that consistency of concern: "Sea Oak," like everything else, becomes about what exactly it would mean "becoming" to get ahead, how much needs to be sacrificed to accomplish it, and whether the steps required to accomplish it are the right way to situate one's mind at all.

And the thing that separates Saunders from how most of yr Woods-style hysterical-realists on this is where he comes down on that, and how naturally -- the guy does try to accomplish it, somewhat sadly, and somewhat because he can't explain to the ghost why life isn't fair (and maybe doesn't want to have to not-explain the same thing to his nephews).

nabisco (nabisco), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 16:34 (eighteen years ago) link

Could somebody give some background on Wood and "hysterical realism?"

pr00de, where's my car? (pr00de), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 16:45 (eighteen years ago) link

Wood coined it in (I think) an essay about Zadie Smith; it's his shorthand for the American doorstop-lengthy encyclopedic clever/wacky packed-with-stuff novel, the kind that's all about systems of lots and lots of stuff (see Infinite Jest) instead of the sparer people-and-feelings alternative. Wood:

Hysterical realism is not exactly magical realism, but magical realism's next stop. It is characterised by a fear of silence. This kind of realism is a perpetual motion machine that appears to have been embarrassed into velocity. Stories and sub-stories sprout on every page. There is a pursuit of vitality at all costs. Recent novels by Rushdie, Pynchon, DeLillo, Foster Wallace, Zadie Smith and others have featured a great rock musician who played air guitar in his crib (Rushdie); a talking dog, a mechanical duck and a giant octagonal cheese (Pynchon); a nun obsessed with germs who may be a reincarnation of J Edgar Hoover (DeLillo); a terrorist group devoted to the liberation of Quebec who move around in wheelchairs (Foster Wallace); and a terrorist Islamic group based in North London with the silly acronym Kevin (Smith).

Which is not bad as a genre for a critic to identify, but there are times when his stern disapproval of the thing amounts to saying "god damn it, these young writers are trying to be funny and entertaining and take childish delight in the very acts of writing and reading," which I'm not sure is really the most productive way to criticize that stuff; one of the good things about Smith was some pure gut-level vitality in the writing, some feeling of joy and freedom in the acts of reading and writing themselves -- not terrible things to introduce into literature right now.

Plus it bleeds over into going "oh, whatever, hysterical realism" every time someone tries to do anything fun at all -- Saunders is a pretty focused (even samey!) short-story writer, not a scattered hysteric, but he brings one old lady back from the dead and it's all "yeah, hysterics."

nabisco (nabisco), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 17:12 (eighteen years ago) link

Hm. I can see what he means, criticizing what he perceives as the "gimmicky" elements of contemporary fiction. (There was a thread about something like that on here, wasn't there? About every new novel seemingly needing some kind of "hook?") That sort of approach seems like the flipside of people who decry writing workshops as deadening and homogenizing writing. (Which, yeah yeah, I've done myself, too. But I'm feeling much better now.) Instead of the Carveresque reticence, you've got work that's pushing in all kinds of different directions, the messy sprawling underside of the iceberg instead of just the tip.

pr00de, where's my car? (pr00de), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 19:10 (eighteen years ago) link

don't forget franzen's talking poo as another example of hysterical realism.

cutty (mcutt), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 20:17 (eighteen years ago) link

Another thing I wish is that critics who pull Wood's line on this would give some thought to the kinda-relevant presence of film, partly as (a) a probably influence on that desire for vitality, but more importantly (b) a simple competitor -- one of the joys taken up in this kind of writing is that much of it simply couldn't be accomplished the same way in a visual medium. Half of its hallmarks fit that description; at times it seems in love with itself as a textual object, as opposed to any other kind.

(There remains a slight generational "thing" around that, actually, one that I never see older people acknowledge. Wallace had something interesting about that in his television essay, from, what, fifteen years ago? And still I'll see older people advise writing techniques such as introducing every character with an overview of appearance, to which some younger people invariably react badly: "If we cared what everyone looked like we'd be in the film program!")

nabisco (nabisco), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 20:32 (eighteen years ago) link

I'd never heard of Saunders before this thread. But this little statistical tidbit from the Amazon page for Pastoralia is intriguing:

Statistically Improbable Phrases (SIPs):

show your cock, sleek metal hole, lime crone, pink crone, attitudinal difficulties, bag from the bottom, heavy girl, your oatmeal, small bugs

o. nate (onate), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 20:36 (eighteen years ago) link

"show your cock" = what you do at the strip club to make extra buxxx
"your oatmeal" = what you shouldn't let people shit in
"sleek metal hole" = robot sex mail delivery system

nabisco (nabisco), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 20:38 (eighteen years ago) link

Funny, that was the subject line of the last spam email I got.

pr00de, where's my car? (pr00de), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 20:38 (eighteen years ago) link

From the brief excerpt of Pastoralia that I just read, it seems like Saunders has more in common with Donald Barthelme than he does with the "hysterical realists".

o. nate (onate), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 20:46 (eighteen years ago) link

BUY THE BOOKS BRO

cutty (mcutt), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 21:07 (eighteen years ago) link

my copy of civilwarland is so tattered from lending it out to anyone who hasn't heard of george's greatness. i wish i could take his class at syracuse.

cutty (mcutt), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 21:07 (eighteen years ago) link

I think o.nate is correct re: Barthelme. I think Saunders = Barthelme + a possibly fatal overdose of Chekhov + some pie-eyed sentimentality. I don't think he is particularly HRist.

I think Nab. sounds a bit daft saying: "one of the good things about Smith was some pure gut-level vitality in the writing". He sounds a bit like (heaven help me)... Dave Marsh. I don't think Wood is stern, particularly. He is an aesthete, with a limited patience for sociology/cultural theory/pomo posturing. To put it bluntly, he wants novels about people rather than novels about ideas. As such, he is a timely response to the over-rating of DFW in the US and, especially, Rushdie in the UK.

Funnily enough, Wood is younger than many of the HRers he criticises.

Jerry the Nipper (Jerrynipper), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 21:45 (eighteen years ago) link

What do the great list of things separated by semicolons there all have in common?

tom west (thomp), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 22:01 (eighteen years ago) link

I suppose they could write novels about middle-aged people having affairs instead.

tom west (thomp), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 22:02 (eighteen years ago) link

They could learn from the experience.

tom west (thomp), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 22:03 (eighteen years ago) link

Or not.

tom west (thomp), Wednesday, 14 September 2005 22:03 (eighteen years ago) link

which ones?

just sayin, Saturday, 16 February 2013 07:49 (eleven years ago) link

^ great

just sayin, Wednesday, 20 February 2013 12:37 (eleven years ago) link

five months pass...

I just finished Pastoralia, which is my second Saunders book. I think "Sea Oak" is one of the best short stories I have ever read. I have been wanting to talk about it with somebody, but my wife, a Joycian who doesn't read anything written after 1945, refuses to read postmodern fiction of any kind, at least until she finishes her dissertation (which is fair). So happy to have this thread, then, and nabisco's great posts, which are some of my favorite posts I've read on ILX. It was great to read such an articulate analysis of Saunders' use of language, and why it's so effective:

there's a rich uncle who spouts optimistic banalities about hard work in such a way that you feel he believes it, you understand him -- and even better, when the aunt's grave is desecrated, Saunders pegs the entire role of the policeman simply by putting question marks at the end of his sentences. (I wish I had the book here to quote: I think he says "Typically we find it's teens?" and in that question mark you hear everything -- the desire to be helpful and reassuring, and the complete powerlessness to actually be helpful and reassuring.)

The FIRPO story really got to me, too. It was like a Carver story narrated by the doomed child instead of the unhappy parents of the doomed child. "Winky" and the one about the barber were just ok, but I really loved the rest.

Anyway, I've read CivilWarLand In Bad Decline (though it's been years and I think I want to read it again; someone gave it to me as a gift a long time ago in an attempt to get me to quit reading Sedaris), and now, Pastoralia. Which one next?

Jimmywine Dyspeptic, Monday, 19 August 2013 03:02 (ten years ago) link

two years pass...

Diminishing returns? I'm half way into The Tenth of December and finding it not good and his concerns and ticks too repetitive. I mean, I know it's apt to have a character think an absurd or mundane thought then think "ha ha" and wrote that but he's used it in every story bar one so far. And the ending of "escape from the spiderhead" is the exact ending he's used in two stories in previous collections. People have spoken highly of" the semplica girl diaries" but I couldn't really believe the idea of the SGs in the first place and then the story tails off in a not very interesting way rather than actually ending. There are a few like that too. The only story I thought was good thus far was the two page one called "Sticks".

Acting Crazy (Instrumental) (jed_), Saturday, 10 October 2015 23:43 (eight years ago) link

I enjoyed the narrative language of the SG diaries but couldn't actually work out what it had to do with the character of the narrator and spent the first half of the story thinking of the zen koans on t-shirts thread on I'll and thought the narrator was meant to me writing in a second language. Didn't really make any sense to me, anyway.

Acting Crazy (Instrumental) (jed_), Saturday, 10 October 2015 23:49 (eight years ago) link

On ilx not I'll

Acting Crazy (Instrumental) (jed_), Saturday, 10 October 2015 23:53 (eight years ago) link

escape from spiderhead is pretty bad -- takes a bunch of themes he's done before, makes the real-life parallels obvious, puts in a christian sacrifice at the ending. i liked most of the others.

aaaaablnnn (abanana), Sunday, 11 October 2015 02:41 (eight years ago) link

i don't even remember spiderhead. is it the one with the old dude trying to kill himself? i liked that one. i didn't like most of the others.

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Sunday, 11 October 2015 02:50 (eight years ago) link

i think i liked it best of his books, the writing is very virtuoso

lag∞n, Sunday, 11 October 2015 03:08 (eight years ago) link

that's the worst thing about it

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Sunday, 11 October 2015 03:14 (eight years ago) link

that doesnt make any sense

lag∞n, Sunday, 11 October 2015 03:16 (eight years ago) link

spiderhead = testing emotion drugs on people

aaaaablnnn (abanana), Sunday, 11 October 2015 03:39 (eight years ago) link

i. i think saunders is worse now that the purpose of each sentence is not to communicate the interiority of the american lower-middle and working classes and instead to communicate how good george saunders is at communicating the interiority of etc.
ii. there's been a real flattening of idea and of sentiment that's gone along with this

though i think 'tenth' is probably less bad than the one that came out when i was an undergraduate, which i overrated at the time, because of how i was an undergraduate

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Sunday, 11 October 2015 07:59 (eight years ago) link

the semplica girl diaries is--to use a phrase which seems to be becoming so much popular on ilx that we could probably abbreviate it--a little too on the nose

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Sunday, 11 October 2015 08:01 (eight years ago) link

i think saunders is worse now that the purpose of each sentence is not to communicate the interiority of the american lower-middle and working classes and instead to communicate how good george saunders is at communicating the interiority of etc.

this is the sentence that killed david foster wallace

playlists of pensive swift (difficult listening hour), Sunday, 11 October 2015 09:23 (eight years ago) link

(not a disagreement. i haven't read saunders recently.)

playlists of pensive swift (difficult listening hour), Sunday, 11 October 2015 09:24 (eight years ago) link

fair

♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Sunday, 11 October 2015 09:43 (eight years ago) link

I don't really like his sci-fi stories. The final story in Tenth is completely devastating though. Otherwise the ones that have stuck with me are the first story with the child abduction, and the one with the puppy and the kid tied to the tree.

Matt DC, Sunday, 11 October 2015 10:42 (eight years ago) link

i. i think saunders is worse now that the purpose of each sentence is not to communicate the interiority of the american lower-middle and working classes and instead to communicate how good george saunders is at communicating the interiority of etc.

― ♛ LIL UNIT ♛ (thomp), Sunday, October 11, 2015 3:59 AM (5 hours ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

idk he always seemed a lil too literal and proud of himself to really communicate any sort of deep ~interiority~ or w/e he is often an astonishingly good writer tho and funny

lag∞n, Sunday, 11 October 2015 13:42 (eight years ago) link

I read him for the yuks tbh -- that affected affectlessness.

The burrito of ennui (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 11 October 2015 14:14 (eight years ago) link

one year passes...

fairly tepid review of the novel

https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2017/03/the-sentimental-sadist/513824/

Number None, Wednesday, 8 February 2017 17:26 (seven years ago) link

I'm guessing that's a deliberate hit job, but it doesn't really encourage me to pick up the novel, either.

There was a point when Persistent Gappers of Frip came out, and I started to think, "You know, maybe this guy isn't very good anymore" and the voice kind of curdled on me. I haven't read Tenth of December, but is it fair to say everything since Pastoralia is just more of the same? Even at the time (although it's very good) Pastoralia felt like a retread. At this point it seems like his interviews are more enjoyable than his writing.

Chuck_Tatum, Wednesday, 8 February 2017 18:20 (seven years ago) link

pretty much

Number None, Wednesday, 8 February 2017 18:22 (seven years ago) link

tenth of december is great imho, and i went in thinking i was kinda sick of him, similar themes to his earlier work but the prose is more dynamic or something

lag∞n, Wednesday, 8 February 2017 19:19 (seven years ago) link

A bit more than "similar" IMO. I thought it was rotten. I liked that one page story called "pole" though.

Heavy Doors (jed_), Wednesday, 8 February 2017 21:02 (seven years ago) link

Have enjoyed most of his work, but 400p is not the length at which i want to read it.

I hear from this arsehole again, he's going in the river (James Morrison), Thursday, 9 February 2017 02:23 (seven years ago) link

Most of Tenth of December seemed overwrought and and/or too crafty, also maybe not crafty enough, re pattern recognition---if a hyper and otherwise goofy boychild and an old man with dementia are wandering the same landscape, of course they're eventually going to come into proximity and have A Saunders Moment, very painterly. But did like for instance when the way the Unstable War Vet, the kind that used to be standard on TV etc. before vets pretty much vanished from TV etc, gets re-absorbed into the family dynamic, for a while--and of course might actually freak out etc. later, with family members getting some measure of blame, suspicion etc; Saunders does always seek some kind of verisimilitude, and there he gets it. But overall, I think Karen Russell's Vampires In The Leomon Grove is much better at social commentary x imaginative writing, with no overselling.

dow, Thursday, 9 February 2017 21:04 (seven years ago) link

D'oh! The Lemon Grove, of course. I'll prob read some more Saunders----Civilwarland In Bad Decline was pretty good, I take it?

dow, Thursday, 9 February 2017 21:07 (seven years ago) link

I read CivilWarLand when the paperback came out in the mid-90s, when it was a good bridge between the sci-fi I read as a teenager and the Proper Literature I pretended to like in my twenties. Anyway, it's amazing (or so I remember) but the shtick probably doesn't come across as original as it seemed at the time, if only because it's been imitated so often (especially by Saunders).

Chuck_Tatum, Thursday, 9 February 2017 22:34 (seven years ago) link

That Lemon Grove thing seemed fun in the excerpt on Amazon.

Chuck_Tatum, Thursday, 9 February 2017 22:43 (seven years ago) link

I've only read 10th of December but found it fantastic, especially The Semplica-Girl Diaries which can be read online http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2012/10/15/the-semplica-girl-diaries

should probably read his older stuff

niels, Friday, 10 February 2017 11:55 (seven years ago) link

The NYorker has a ton of Saunders stuff avail to read

calstars, Friday, 10 February 2017 12:13 (seven years ago) link

five months pass...

Lincoln in the Bardo was an inspiring read. Can't think of another contemporary American author with such an impressive grasp of language and style. It's both straightforward and experimental, postmodern and touching, even spiritual. I'm going to check out his early work when I get the chance.

niels, Sunday, 30 July 2017 09:17 (six years ago) link

Oh yeah, and of course it's very funny too.

The cacophony of voices and styles is elegantly integrated with the themes and narrative, really just a very clever way of telling the story, surprisingly easy to follow.

niels, Sunday, 30 July 2017 09:23 (six years ago) link

I've heard so-so things about it but you've just convinced me to give it a shot

calstars, Sunday, 30 July 2017 11:50 (six years ago) link

Great! I'm not sure I'd want to argue that it's perfect in every way, but I def think it's an enjoyable read all the way - and even though it's labeled as a novel, it's really more written in the style of a drama which means you read it in no time

niels, Sunday, 30 July 2017 15:59 (six years ago) link

two months pass...

this story is very lovely!

https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/oct/21/george-saunders-fox-8-short-story-man-booker-prize-lincoln-bardo

oh yeah, and he won the Booker Prize.

Susan Stranglehands (jed_), Sunday, 22 October 2017 21:43 (six years ago) link

six years pass...

did anyone other than niels on here read lincoln in the bardo? i picked it up the other day and there is no way in hell i could read that book. that looked like the kind of book that people buy and then never finish but maybe i'm just dumb.

scott seward, Friday, 5 April 2024 12:10 (three months ago) link

Same. I’ve read his other stuff but could only make it through the beginning

calstars, Friday, 5 April 2024 12:18 (three months ago) link

i read it and loved it, but i could totally see picking it up and not finishing it.

i like his style a lot but, like carver, he's spawned a lot of imitators, and his style has some limits.

his turns toward the sentimental can be heartbreaking and also veer toward sap

a (waterface), Friday, 5 April 2024 12:19 (three months ago) link

I liked it a lot, but it took a minute to get going iirc.

Jordan s/t (Jordan), Friday, 5 April 2024 12:22 (three months ago) link

you aren't alone, scott. I got about halfway through it and realized I had no desire to continue down that path. It felt like a song stuck on repeat.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Friday, 5 April 2024 17:28 (three months ago) link

it does take a minute to get going, and to figure out that most of the characters are talking to themselves and not really responding to other characters. it's a series of overlapping narratives, which makes sense from a writer of short stories.

the defenestration of prog (voodoo chili), Friday, 5 April 2024 17:30 (three months ago) link

I mean, it is about purgatory.

xp

Jordan s/t (Jordan), Friday, 5 April 2024 17:31 (three months ago) link

I listened to the full cast audiobook. I think that's the way to get it done. Although, I will say that our book club (we are all Saunders fans) liked it in any format.

immodesty blaise (jimbeaux), Friday, 5 April 2024 17:41 (three months ago) link

xp - Not quite purgatory. That's where one expiates one's sins in order to become purified and ascend to heaven, but the bardo, where regrets and desires keep one tethered to a past life, unable to move on to the next. So the bardo is a fruitless stasis. That makes for a tough challenge in terms of narrative and Saunders means of handling that challenge bogged down too much to repay me for the effort of finishing it.

more difficult than I look (Aimless), Friday, 5 April 2024 17:44 (three months ago) link

His mix of gleeful cruelty and sappy sentimentality sets my teeth on edge. Liked the first couple of collections but it's been diminishing returns since then.

Tsar Bombadil (James Morrison), Saturday, 6 April 2024 08:01 (three months ago) link

i finished L in the B, it did seem like a short story idea stretched out to novel length. Some of it was quite moving, some of it struck me as emotionally manipulative, either way it didn't make me want to read anything more by him.

ledge, Saturday, 6 April 2024 10:08 (three months ago) link

i had never read any Saunders until Lincoln in the Bardo & i really loved it, i found it very moving.

werewolves of laudanum (VegemiteGrrl), Saturday, 6 April 2024 15:43 (three months ago) link


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