I wasn’t sure about this short story collection at first. As revered as Saunders is in the literary community—and even after reading and loving his new novel—I don’t know much about his work, and was admittedly caught off guard by how postmodern this was. I love postmodern fiction, but I also feel as if you need to be prepared for it—especially the experimental kind that plays around with form and language as much as this does.
So it took me a few stories to get going. Many of them are disorienting, and it takes some time to become acquainted with the styles and settings.
This is a collection about the downtrodden. About people living on the fringes of life. Although Saunders’ settings are sometimes surreal or even dystopian, they’re always firmly rooted in reality—critiques of modern American life verging from hilarious to emotional to disturbing.
His characters confront difficult situations, doing what they believe to be best for themselves and their loved ones, often to the point of absurdity. Because navigating happiness and prosperity in modern America is nothing if not absurd. A few of the stories juxtapose two characters, each in their own heads, whose lives overlap in striking ways. It’s a sobering reminder of the inherit loneliness of the individual human experience and the inevitable limits of our empathy.
When it comes down to it, we’re all just bumbling around doing our best, and Saunders’ prose cuts to the heart of that reality. Some of the stories in this collection were forgettable, but the ones that hit—and there were several—hit like a ton of bricks.
Favorites: The Semplica Girl Diaries, Escape from Spiderhead, Home, My Chivalric Fiasco and Tenth of December.