Entry updated 16 January 2021. Tagged: Author.
(1958- ) US engineer and author who began publishing work of genre interest with "Offloading for Mrs Schwartz" in The New Yorker (see Slick) for 5 October 1992, the first of twenty stories he has published in that journal. No traces of his earlier interest in Objectivism (see Ayn Rand) are easily found in his fiction, whose Satirical take on late capitalist consumerism shows the influence of Kurt Vonnegut, particularly in the hilarities that, in both authors, make antic play with cultural despair. Saunders's short work, much of it placed in Near Future Dystopian suburbias, has been assembled as CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Stories and a Novella (coll 1996), Pastoralia: Stories (coll 2000) and In Persuasion Nation: Stories (coll 2005), all titled for places where, in his words, "the Brain-Dead Megaphone" of late capitalism deafens the world; Tenth of December (coll 2013), though the tales are less exorbitantly conveyed and some contain no fantastic element, continues to argue the same understanding of the grotesque elements of the contemporary Media Landscape. The burden of these tales is harsh, but even the savagery of "Pastoralia" (3 April 2000 The New Yorker), whose protagonists are forced to "re-enact" grotesque imitations of Neanderthal life in a theme-park Zoo, is leavened by a concise, deadpan fatalism, cunningly funny in its articulation. Though his work threatens at points to explode Equipoisally into the absurd, or into linguistically-distorted Virtual Realities, Saunders is in fact a relatively conservative author, whose mind focuses relentlessly on worlds nudged only slightly, at points, into the fantastic; in this respect, despite the brilliant surface of his work, he is slightly less adventurous than slightly younger contemporaries also associated with The New Yorker like Kevin Brockmeier or Karen Russell. The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (2000 chap) is a children's fantasy; The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (2005) is a novella so focused on its satirical message – in a Wonderland consisting of two tiny countries, Inner Horner and Outer Horner, temporary exiles from the Inner supply enough excuse for a tyranny to become established in the Outer – that it slides into allegory, rather like the satirical fables of an earlier New Yorker writer, James Thurber.
In Saunders's first full-length work, the Equipoisal Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel (2017), which is set in the darkest days of the American Civil War, Abraham Lincoln finds himself locked for periods in a bardo – a Tibetan Buddhist term for something like Limbo, though more complex transactions and transitions with the world are here engaged, and souls of the dead, as in Kim Stanley Robinson's The Years of Rice and Salt (2002), here await rebirth – where he attempts to defend his dead son Willie's soul. This novel won the 2017 Booker Prize. [JC]
born Amarillo, Texas: 2 December 1958
- Lincoln in the Bardo: A Novel (New York: Random House, 2017) [hb/from Gaspard Dughet]
collections and stories
- CivilWarLand in Bad Decline: Stories and a Novella (New York: Random House, 1996) [coll: hb/Laurie Simmons]
- Pastoralia: Stories (New York: Riverhead Books, 2000) [coll: hb/Archie Ferguson]
- The Very Persistent Gappers of Frip (New York: Villard, 2000) [novella: chap: illus/hb/Lane Smith]
- The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005) [novella: hb/Benjamin Gibson]
- In Persuasion Nation: Stories (New York: Riverhead Books, 2005) [coll: hb/]
- The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil and In Persuasion Nation (London: Bloomsbury, 2006) [omni of the above two: pb/]
- Tenth of December (London: Bloomsbury, 2013) [coll: hb/Greg Heinimann]
- The Brain-Dead Megaphone (New York: Riverhead Books, 2007) [nonfiction: coll: pb/]
- A Swim in a Pond in the Rain: In Which Four Russians Give a Master Class on Writing, Reading, and Life (New York: Random House, 2021) [nonfiction: hb/]
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