Review: George Saunders’ stellar collection looks at life’s absurdities, but a veil of violence lurks

George Saunders is the author of “Liberation Day”, a collection of nine short stories. Photo: Zach Krahmer

The first line of George Saunders’ extremely relevant collection of new stories: “It’s day three of acting.” Immediately we ask: Interim? Why in capitals? Could acting refer to our lives during COVID (maybe not over)? In the Trump years (perhaps not over)? Our passage on this planet (also not finished, at least not yet)?

It’s one of Saunders’ tricks, to write directly to the world of history while writing to us here in our chairs, our streets, our workplaces, and to our political and public discourse. It provides a mirror, albeit wonderfully distorted.

“Liberation Day” also marks the end of an interim for Saunders himself, as it is his first collection since he was catapulted to national fame with “Tenth of December” nearly 10 years ago. year. He was great with Abraham Lincoln and Russian literature, but let’s enjoy this new collection of short stories, which is how many of us first discovered him and where he excels like no other.

Back to the title story. The line is spoken by a man “attached” to a “talking wall”, forced to “talk” with two other “speakers” controlled by a certain Ahabian Mr. U. How our narrator got there or what world would allow a such a situation is never fully explained.

Liberation Day by George Saunders. Photo: Random House

There are nuances of Samuel Beckett throughout the collection, and in this story in particular: humans placed in a completely absurd situation (life itself?), and what makes it absurd is that no one questions it. We also think of American companies demanding that we perform tasks for the most powerful and generally for their benefit, not always ours. And no matter where we are in the system, we will always be controlled by something.

Saunders’ imaginative capacity is on full display when the story turns into a tale of Custer’s Last Stand, which the speakers must piece together for “Company.” The speakers are, at some point, injected with the ‘knowledge mode’ and ‘given facts’. Real facts. Which are helpful,” writes Saunders. Indeed, they are. The result is a re-enactment of the Battle of the Little Bighorn, one of the most flagrant displays of hubris in US history.

When a group of leftists burst in to free the Presidents, the response is violence, a violence that haunts many of these new stories. Saunders shows — with the January 6 Capitol attack fresh in our minds — how easily violence can become the answer to maintaining the status quo and resolving our conflicting worldviews.

“Liberation Day” echoes Saunders’ earlier work, but the ideas in this collection are more complex and nuanced, perhaps reflecting the new complexities of this new world of ours. The title story is just one of the few stories in this collection that shows us our collective and personal dilemmas, but reading the issues thus expressed – with compassion and humanity – our spirits are lifted and perhaps healed. Part of Saunders’ elixir is that we feel more empathetic after reading his work.

Ezra Pound said, “Literature is information that remains information. In this collection, Saunders makes us look at the news boldly, but we can’t help but hope that one day, somehow, we might do something to change the news that comes out. our world – and do it together.

The day of liberation
By George Saunders
(Random House; 256 pages; $28)

Santa Cruz Bookstore presents George Saunders: 7 p.m. on November 1. $34, book included. Veterans Memorial Building, 846 Front Street, Santa Cruz.

Booksmith and Berkeley Arts & Letters feature George Saunders in conversation with Samin Nosrat: 7 p.m. on November 2. $38 including book. First Presbyterian Church, 2407 Dana St., Berkeley.

  • Scott Laughlin

    Scott Laughlin’s work has appeared in Guernica, The Common, the Los Angeles Review of Books and other publications. He teaches high school at the University of San Francisco.


Comments are closed.