March 9, 2010

On CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, by George Saunders

Bad, but shows promise. The cover copy blubs tried to sell the book as a cross between Nathanael West and Kurt Vonnegut. This blurb lies. Like I said, the book show promise. The scenarios the author dreams up to place his characters in are interesting. What doesn't work is how the characters act and interact. Also, while interesting, some of the scenarios are also unrealistic. In both 'The 400 pound CEO" and "Bounty," we are expected to think that the actions could be happening now. However, the characters actions and inner thoughts belie a naivety of how humans think and interact.

Saunders comes across as an intelligent but tin-eared writer who, I hope has developed from his tendencies. Another drawback is that he relies on dialogue for a good amount of exposition. This is tiring for the reader. I am frankly surprised at all the accolades he has gathered. If he has earned them, I am worried about the state of the short story in this country. These works come across as the output of a high level student writer, like my friend Andy Bolt.

If Saunders wants to get away from naturalistic writing, I understand. I also understand the urge to compare him to Vonnegut. In many of Vonnegut's works we see the same approach to writing as in this work by Saunders. Take reality and alter it a bit. This allows the writer to throw a light on something that he wants to expose or explore. Vonnegut does not get enough credit for the elegance and beauty of his prose because it is so simple and easy to digest. In my opinion, Saunders in this analogy is roughage that passes right through.