There’s an erudite, bookish gas station attendant in Oxford, and I’d like to meet him. Maybe he’s a budding writer. We book lovers are always keen to be introduced to a new author, book or genre; meaning it is new to us even though it may have been “out” for a while. A young friend of mine brought George Saunders to my attention.
My friend was on a recent trip to Oxford where he and my daughter reveled in the wonderful atmosphere of Square Books. Stopping at a gas station/convenience store on the way out of town, the attendant asked if they were tourists and had bought the requisite Faulkner books. My daughter pleaded guilty, but her friend let the attendant know that his purchase was solely the works of Kurt Vonnegut, his favorite writer. Hence the introduction to George Saunders, who’s compared to Vonnegut and even been jestingly referred to as the illegitimate son of Vonnegut.
Saunders, who teaches creative writing at Syracuse University, has written several books in addition to Civilwarland in Bad Decline, including Pastoralia, The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil and In Persuasion Nation. These are collections of short stories and novellas written with a sharp and biting pen. The title story of Civilwarland in Bad Decline takes a dystopian look at a future America where history is preserved and portrayed in park-like settings.
Fellow writer and humorist Garrison Keillor says, “This book is a rare event; a brilliant new satirist bursting out of the gate in full stride, wildly funny, pure, generous — all that a great humorist should be.”
Jay McInerney of the New York Times Book Review, compared Saunders to Mississippi’s Barry Hannah. “He’s (Saunders) a cool satirist and a wicked stylist; the quirkiest and most accomplished short-story debut since Barry Hannah’s Airships.
Saunders’ work is classified in the speculative fiction genre for the way his stories take a pointed look at America in the future with jabs at topics that include corporate hypocrisy, marital discord and virtual reality. He has won numerous awards, including three National Magazine Awards and the McArthur Foundation’s ‘genius grant.’ Four times his work has been included in the O. Henry Awards collections. He is also a frequent contributor to the New Yorker and Harper’s magazines.