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Pastoraliaby George Saunders
A New York Times Notable Book of 2000.
One of Entertainment Weekly's Ten Best Fiction Books of 2000.
Synopses & Reviews
In an era that boasts Jerry Springer, Tammy Faye Baker, and "Survivor Africa," it's difficult to make it as a satirist. Any effort to exaggerate the world's ridiculous contractions — the satirist's stock in trade — falls flat. Reality has already become a surreal parody of itself. So, an author who can inflate what is already extreme, without resorting to gimmicks or sounding forced, has really achieved something. George Saunders does just this by relating his weird stories about bizarre theme parks, computer-generated game shows, and self-help gurus in a voice as bland as Donald Rumsfeld's. Yet underneath their deadpan veneer, these stories are biting, dark, and very, very funny, a pleasantly postmodern answer to Kurt Vonnegut. Saunders's achievements have not gone unnoticed. Civil War Land in Bad Decline, his first book, was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the PEN/Hemingway award. Saunders has further received three National Magazine Awards and three O. Henry Awards, including one for the brilliant title story of Pastoralia. The New Yorker also named Saunders one of the country's Twenty Best Writers Under Forty. C. P. Farley, Powells.com
In the old days, when heads were constantly poking in, we liked what we did. Really hammed it up. Had little grunting fights....Sometimes we'd go down to Russian Peasant Farm for a barbecue, I remember there was Murray and Leon, Leon was dating Eileen, Eileen was the one with all the cats, but now, with the big decline in heads poking in, the Russian Peasants are all elsewhere, some to Administration but most not, Eileen's cats have gone wild, and honest to God sometimes I worry I'll go to the Big Slot and find it goatless.
If Americans in the future were to try to send us a message about where our culture is heading, they might simply point to the fiction of George Saunders. Living in a world that's both indelibly original and hauntingly familiar, the characters in these stories bring to life our most absurd tendencies, and allow us to see ourselves in a shocking, uproariously funny new light.
Here you find people who live and work in a simulated, theme-park cave and communicate with their loved ones via fax machine. You encounter a family happily gathered around their favorite form of entertainment, a computer-generated TV show called The Worst That Could Happen. And you hear an upbeat self-help guru sermonize about how figuring out who's been "crapping in your oatmeal" will help raise your self-esteem. With an uncanny sense of how our culture reflects our character, Saunders mixes a deadpan naturalism with a wicked sense of humor to reveal a picture of contemporary America that's both feverishly strange and, through his characters' perseverance, oddly hopeful.
Named by The New Yorker one of the Twenty Best American Writers Under Forty, George Saunders has been recognized as a visionary storyteller with a hypnotic style. Critics have placed him in the tradition of Kurt Vonnegut, Mark Twain, and Thomas Pynchon "a savage satirist with a sentimental streak," said The New York Times. These stories bring greater wisdom and maturity to the worldview he established with his first collection, and leave little doubt that he has found a place in modern fiction all his own.
"Being inside the teeming heads of these folks is amusing and enlightening. So accurately are [his characters] rendered, in all their flawed glory, that they appear not only perfectly human but familiar." Kirkus Reviews
"In his new collection, Saunders's tales cover larger, more exciting territory, with an abundance of ideas, meanings and psychological nuance. Saunders can be brutally funny, and the better his stories are, the more melancholic, somber and subtle they are, too." Lynne Tillman, The New York Times Book Review
"Saunders's extraordinary talent is in top form in his second collection...in which his vision of a hellishly (and hopefully) exaggerated dystopia of late capitalist America is warmed and impassioned by his regular, irregular, and flat-out wacky characters. Merging the spirit of James Thurber with the world of The Simpsons, Saunders's five stories and title novella feature protagonists who are losers yet also innocent dreamers....The tales pit bleak existences with details so contemporary they're futuristic....Saunders, with a voice unlike any other writer's, makes these losers funny, plausible and absolutely winning." Publishers Weekly
"An astoundingly tuned voice graceful, dark, authentic, and funny telling just the kinds of stories we need to get us through these times." Thomas Pynchon
"Mr. Saunders' satiric vision of America is dark and demented: it is also ferocious and very funny." Michiko Kakutani, The New York Times
"George Saunders is a writer of arresting brilliance and originality." Tobias Wolff
"Dazzling....Saunders's misfits confront their degradations with heroic optimism; rarely have the comic nuances of suffering been tracked with such precision. These stories, injected with Saunders's highly original blend of irony and tenderness, ride you down spirals of the absurd and fling you back to your own life, startled." Men's Journal
"Saunders is a provocateur, a moralist, a zealot, a lefty, and a funny, funny writer, and the stories in Pastoralia delight. We're very lucky to have them." Esquire
From an author named by The New Yorker as one of the "20 Best American Fiction Writers Under 40," a hilarious, inventive, unforgettable collection of stories.
His remarkable first collection of stories was hailed by The New York Times as "the debut of an exciting new voice in fiction." Garrison Keillor called him wildly funny, pure, generous all that a great humorist should be." With this new collection, George Saunders takes us even further into the shocking, uproarious, and oddly familiar landscape of his imagination.
The stories in Pastoralia are set in a slightly skewed version of America, where elements of contemporary life have been merged, twisted, and amplified, casting their absurdity and our humanity in a startling new light. Whether he writes a gothic morality tale in which a male exotic dancer is haunted by his maiden aunt from beyond the grave, or about a self-help guru who tells his followers his mission is to discover who's been "crapping in your oatmeal," Saunders's stories are both indelibly strange and vividly real.
George Saunders has been identified as a writer in the tradition of Mark Twain, Thomas Pynchon, and Kurt Vonnegut "a savage satirist with a sentimental streak," said The New York Times. In this new collection, Saunders brings greater wisdom and maturity to the worldview he established with CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, leaving no doubt about his place as the brilliant successor to these writers.
About the Author
George Saunders is the author of the short story collection CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, a finalist for the 1996 PEN/Hemingway Award and a New York Times Notable Book for that year. He teaches in the Creative Writing Program at Syracuse University.
Table of Contents
Pastoralia — Winky — Sea oak — The end of FIRPO in the world — The barber's unhappiness — The falls.
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