not merely superfluous, but ridiculous
This post was taken from my Goodreads review:
In an afterword that is nearly as compelling as some of the stories in this collection, Saunders mentions that he received a phone call from a family friend who wanted to know what had happened to him that made him want to write such sick and twisted stories? Saunders tried to explain that he was actually quite happy, that he didn’t see his stories as particularly disturbing or twisted. “No,” the family friend replied, “I remember you. You used to be such a happy little boy. I wonder what happened to you.”
This interaction was apparently real, but it could have come out of one of Saunders’s stories. If there’s one emotion Saunders is able to repeatedly evoke, it’s the sense of rage you can feel at the Legion of the Nice, the people who basically want comfort and placidity at the cost of all else, who have decided that the highest form of existence is for everything to be Nice, who like Dilbert but are worried that it’s sometimes a little too transgressive, who have turned complacency into a fashion statement.
There are other figures of in Saunders that can inspire anger—the Inductive Reasoning Capitalist who decides that, because he is successful, he must have been a hard worker, or the Unthinking Social Darwinist, the type of person who confuses the recognition of injustice with the ignorance of reality. You will recognize them, if you have read Saunders stories before. You may also recognize them from your everyday life.
I don’t know. I wish I had more time to write a shorter review that encapsulates everything I enjoyed about this collection—the fantastic settings, the collection of characters who seem like objects of ridicule unless you think about it a little bit. Actually, that reminds me of movies by the Coen brothers, where a bunch of people argue that “they hate their characters” because they let them talk a little bit strangely, or have foolish dreams. I’m sure the type of people who say these things talk in a completely normal way, and only have the most staid, rational aspirations.
Overall, the collection is good—I think Saunders has definitely improved as a writer, but if you want anyone to understand what you mean when you say “like a George Saunders story,” have them read this. Tell them to pay attention to the way he makes inept or comical language oddly poetic in its accidental understatement and unintended moments of humor, the way he casually breaks almost all the rules of the short story that become rules because teachers have to keep them away from high school kids, the way he understands that everyone is suffering, the people who say they don’t most of all. And if that person comes back and says “I dunno, it was kind of weird,” then never trust them with a book again.