I went into this book with no particular expectations - someone sent it to me, and there it was on my table, and it was small enough to comfortably caI went into this book with no particular expectations - someone sent it to me, and there it was on my table, and it was small enough to comfortably carry on the train, and so I started. I was locked in by the end of the first page, though - the voice is so engaging, smart, funny, and a little off-putting. It's sort of hard to quantify, but sometimes you have a book where in the early pages the author gains your trust and you know, I will go wherever this book wants me to go. And so I did. And I didn't want to put the book down. There is a plot, plenty of stuff happens, and it tells the story of a disaffected, deeply unhappy woman who's trying to figure out what her life is supposed to be, but the plot was secondary to me. I wanted to just spend as much time as I could with the voice of this book. Will definitely read more of Dermansky. ...more
Like almost every negative reviewer on here, I'll begin by noting that I love George Saunders and admire his work, and "Pastoralia" is especially oneLike almost every negative reviewer on here, I'll begin by noting that I love George Saunders and admire his work, and "Pastoralia" is especially one of those books that found me at the right time in my life and made me rethink everything I thought I knew about short story writing.
But this book: I do not like this book. I absolutely would not have finished it, except that I was reading it for an episode of the Book Fight podcast, so I felt obligated to get through it.
I appreciate the incredible ambition behind this book, and I love that Saunders is so willing to deviate dramatically from his previous works, and I think it's cool that a big fancy author is willing to take a chance on a weird book about the ghost of Lincoln's son. But in execution, I found it dull and tiresome. The scenes of quotes from historical texts were skimmable. The primary characters in the bardo narrative too often bickered like sitcom characters, and some of the conversations are interminable. Even after 350 pages, some of the characters were interchangeable to me.
This review comes with the disclaimer that Dave is one of my good friends, HOWEVER it's worth noting that one of the things I really like about Dave iThis review comes with the disclaimer that Dave is one of my good friends, HOWEVER it's worth noting that one of the things I really like about Dave is his writing, and THEREFORE this 5-star rating, though it could be viewed with skepticism, is still a fully earned 5-star rating, and not some bullshit 3-star rating rounded up to 5 due to friendly loyalty.
Every story in this book ends with a massive cleansing fire, which may sound gimmicky (and it is, to an extent), but the thing is, the fires seem natural to the stories, and they are definitely not the most important part of the stories. If there was nothing else going on here, it would be a one-note book, some stories that are essentially jokes. But the thing Dave does really well, in all of his writing, is inhabit characters who might normally be viewed as fringe characters -- losers, people in moments of life transition, unfulfilled middle-aged people who have tried to do well but have come up with nothing to show for it-- and imbues them with real humanity and pathos. The stories are funny, and they're smart, and they're all windows into the lives of fully realized people who might be relegated to stock characters in a lesser book. My favorite story in here is the one about the 7 clowns all crammed into a clown car, where we get glimpses of each clown's POV, just a sense of their long history and working relationship and the ways they have tried to make something work in their lives.
I don't think there's a better illustration of Dave's talents than an 1800 word story that somehow makes 7 clowns (and a monkey) in a clown car seem real, human, and tragic while also making you laugh.
I admire Manguso's commitment to tightly polished prose, and I really liked her memoir "Ongoingness." Some of the lines in here are incredible, memoraI admire Manguso's commitment to tightly polished prose, and I really liked her memoir "Ongoingness." Some of the lines in here are incredible, memorable, insightful, and I loved them. As a book, it doesn't give me what I want from a book, i.e. it doesn't feel like a cohesive whole of any sort, or that it adds up to anything besides a lot of very smart observations. Maybe that's all a book is, and a traditional memoir has 150 pages of unnecessary padding between those brief moments of clarity? I don't know. I think I like the padding. I guess what I'm saying is, I like the idea of this book, and I like that it exists and that Graywolf is giving Sarah Manguso a space to do her thing, because she's extremely talented and smart, but the book itself left me wanting. ...more