Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Civilwarland in Bad Decline

From the back of the book:

"America, in the near future, is a country of artificial experiences in cheesy shopping malls; where the machines faking dreams are always breaking down, and a company purporting to let urban racoons back into the wild is killing them, to save effort... [A] brilliant collection of short stories... you can't help loving this outstandingly tasteless and amusing volume"
Philip Hensher, Mail on Sunday

What goes on in George Saunders' head?
I cannot help but wonder as I plunge into Civilwarland in Bad Decline.
"So I dive in and drag her out. It's not very deep and the bottom's rubber-matted. None of the Basques are bright enough to switch off the Leaping Trout Subroutine however, so twice I get scraped with little fiberglass fins. Finally I get her out on the pine needles and she comes to and spits in my face and says I couldn't possibly know the darkness of her heart. Try me, I say. She crawls away and starts bashing her skull against a tree trunk. The trees are synthetic too. But still."
The Wavemaker Falters

One Amazon customer review suggested that this book have a dosage label, of one story a month. It is a short book, of 179 pages but I have to agree, breathing space is required in between stories, even though it's a library book (although one story a month is a bit much).
It's not that it's an exhausting read, instead it is funny and totally intriguing. But it can get a little repetitive. Perhaps because while the settings are somewhat different, the premise is quite similar - an average person struggling in a black-hole dystopia. And like the nun taking that leap, reading each story one at a time (with long intermissions) is like jumping off a cliff - your feet leave the safety of the rock, you freefall, your stomach seems to be making its way up to your throat and you're ready to scream when your toes, then your the rest of you hit the cushion of water below and you plunge into the comforting cool darkness. And when you shoot back up for air, you're all ready to take the dive again. Except without all the bashing of the head against the synthetic tree.

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