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Following his superb story collectionsCivilwarland in Bad Decline(1996) andPastoralia(1999), as well as last year's novellaThe Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil, Saunders reaffirms his sharp, surreal vision of contemporary, media-saturated life, but keeps most of the elements within his familiar bandwidth. In the sweetly acerbic "My Flamboyant Grandson," a family trip through Times Square is overwhelmed by pop-up advertisements. In "Jon," orphans get sold to a market research firm and become famous as "Tastemakers & Trendsetters" (complete with trading cards). "CommComm" concerns an air force PR flunky living with the restless souls of his parents while covering for a spiraling crisis at work. The more conventionally grounded stories are the most compelling: one lingers over a bad Christmas among Chicago working stiffs, another follows a pair of old Russian-Jewish women haunted by memories of persecution. Others collapse under the weight of too much wit (the title story especially), and a few are little more than exercises in patience ("93990," "My Amendment"). But Saunders's vital theme—the persistence of humanity in a vacuous, nefarious marketing culture of its own creation—comes through with subtlety and fresh turns.(May)
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ISBN-10:  159448922X
ISBN-13:  978-1594489228
Author:  George Saunders
Publisher:  Riverhead Hardcover
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review by . June 15, 2008
I heard the author at a book reading when his previous collection, "Pastoralia," came out. I asked him how he conceived his intricate, twisting stories. He replied that it was like tossing a stick out for your dog to fetch, but the dog comes back with a baby's severed (I hope) arm in his mouth. Or maybe it was a doll's head, or a real one. You get the picture, however.    As "Pastoralia" marked a shift into more humane characters if no less bizarre scenarios away from the corporate-psychobabble- …
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