Wednesday, August 27, 2008
bonus book review: in persuasion nation, by george saunders
(Since I took last week off, I thought I'd throw a bonus book review your way today to make up for it. And aren't you all-a-quiver!)

Last week I found myself in a bit of a pickle. I was supposed to have spent my summer tracking down supplementary readings for a unit on media manipulation, but as of two days before my due date I hadn't found one single thing. Honestly, I hadn't even bothered to try. In short, I was screwed. Fortunately, a friend came to my rescue by suggesting In Persuasion Nation, a collection of short stories by George Saunders, and it proved perfect for my needs. (And thank God I can read a book in a day. Way to cut things close, me.) I wasn't planning on reviewing this book since I read it for work, however I really enjoyed it, and so what the heck - we're mixing work with pleasure over here today.

The cover of In Persuasion Nation depicts a man leaning over to sniff the solitary flower standing in the center of a wasteland - an appropriate image for a collection of stories whose protagonists are often searching for something real, pure and true in a plastic world that values consumerism over humanity. Often humorous, rather quirky and usually disturbing, Saunders' stories serve as a sort of protest of our corporate culture, warning what we very well may one day become if we choose to continue on our current path. The heroes in these stories are the misfits of this modern world. There's Brad, whose life is a sitcom which he is in danger of being written off of once he finds he can no longer continue smiling along with the laugh track, ignoring the world's ills. In the title story, an army of frustrated characters from smug television commercials rise up and refuse to continue being humiliated while hawking Ding-Dongs, Mac and Cheese and Doritos. And, in what I thought was the best story of the lot, there's Jon, an orphan who's spent nearly his entire life as a member of a product focus group, knowing no other way of communicating his feelings but through advertisements.

While some of these stories succeed better than others, the overall collection proves timely, affecting, inventive and highly entertaining. Like the best satirists, Saunders is thought-provoking, but with heart. Fans of Vonnegut and Pynchon should approve.

George Saunders
2006 (paperback), 228 pages

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