George Saunders’ In Persuasion Nation
Reviewed by mf robinson
Let me preface this review by letting you know that I am not an unbiased reviewer. George Saunders’s, Civilwarland in Bad Decline (1996), his first book, was one of those books that morphed the way I thought about short stories. I had always assumed one had to write around a subject as opposed to confronting it dead on. In that collection, Saunders wrote of jobs with dictator-like bosses and of souls haunting the living not because of soul’s unfinished business, but rather, the unfinished business of the living (see: “The Wavemaker Falters,” “Civilwarland in Bad Decline”). This book changed the way I thought about writing and, in particular, how to create an epiphany within the reader.
Saunders’s newest collection, In Persuasion Nation (2006), follows naturally in the narrative arc of Saunders’s first collection. Whereas before it was the demoralization of man, it is now the loss of what makes us human.
These stories take place in a reality in which commercials have become our most fond memories and where life has become reality TV. Our humanity has been replaced by Doritos and MacAttack Mac&Cheese. And the scary thing: the people populating this alternate reality enjoy it. This is a reality in which frenzied killing of dogs (and eventually all animals) is preferable to dealing with loss and pain. This is a reality in which it is better to ignore reality. After all, as Doris believes, in the story, “Brad Carrigan, American,” it is better to be like the character Chief Wayne who “…has zero opinions. He’s just upbeat.” If reality is what we choose it to be (in a post-modern society) then it is a desirable trait to just ignore the world’s problems in favor of staying “upbeat.”
Ultimately, what makes Saunders’s stories so powerful is the vast amount of empathy Saunders has for his characters. I think, as writers, we must feel for our characters, whether they are oblivious to the world or just becoming aware that life is much larger than what our small pupils can see.
Highlights: “Jon”; “Brad Carrigan, American”; “in persuasion nation”; ”my flamboyant grandson”