Thursday, February 24, 2011

Used Books: "Pastoralia" by George Saunders


A funny book

Author George Saunders is a crazed ,surrealist comedian who , in his tales of conflated literary genres and cultural traits defying any personalized sense of proportion  you might have and cherish, reminds you in moments of  the three year old for whom there is no required separation between ideas, things and the places where they may belong.  That is to say what ever makes sense in the telling of a tale is okay, is alright, is perfectly natural, "natural", that is , because it occurred to the three year old while his mind gathered it's narrative materials. Nothing is excluded, no matter how out of wac. So it is with Saunders, who's 2001 story collection Pastoralia is simply an inspired and condensed can of insanity.


Something about this world reminds me, fleetingly, of The Bed Sitting Room, a film directed by Richard Lester, where addled Brits go about their business after a three-second nuclear war, as if nothing had happened, unaware that their actions are very odd permutations of old habits. This , along with the fact that some characters are morphing into inanimate objects.

What's similiar is that they way you, like Lester, treat your inventions less as weirdness for it's own sake--Tom Robbins when he's boiling over--but how you keep the descriptions and the details of your character's lives in scale; your tone has the unfoldings and detail bask in the light of their own skewed logic: the details relate to one another. "Sea Oak" , with all it's reversals and inversions , pretty much gets the internalized logic of diminishing returns in strip clubs. The returned aunt from the dead, pissed an aggressive economic agenda for a family of whiners, was genius.His use of brief sentences and jerky dialogue makes this skewed universe clang and clack with a sound and feel not so removed from the actual world: his attention to the banal, and his twisting the items just so, makes this a wonderful set of satires. "Sea Oak" is particularly brilliant.

A basic and important strength in your writing is the spare style you prefer to use, as it allows you, it seems to be, to accumulate the carnivalized strangeness and build on it credibly, if that's the word to use. It gives your zaniness a subtle, additional dimensionality that makes this series of tales read like descriptions of a fully realized universe.