Like other folks I know and respect on Goodreads, I loved the opening, titular story but found the rest of the book to be middling. Like, disappointinLike other folks I know and respect on Goodreads, I loved the opening, titular story but found the rest of the book to be middling. Like, disappointingly, forgettably, middling. I know the stories were kinda weird and stuff but for the life of me I can barely even remember what they were about or even distinguish them from each other. I don't think I've ever felt so uneven about a short story collection. It's so strange that it makes me curious enough to give them a reread at some point, despite the less than flattering description I've just given. I feel like I must have read them incorrectly somehow, since the opening story was so engaging and fun, which is where the four three stars come from.
I love books and films that utilize facades and museum-like tableaux and the story "Pastoralia" does this with great effect. This quality plus the cover image of my copy of this book has established itself so firmly in my mind that when I see things like fake trees indoors or big landscape/nature murals (think of the paintings placed around City Hall on the TV show Parks and Recreation) that I think of them as being "Saunders-like" in the instant-association segment of my brain. I haven't yet totally over-analyzed what my attraction to certain uses of facades and replicas is all about yet (though there's been a more extended musing on this elsewhere) but I guess it might just have something to do with fond childhood memories of visiting museums and being enthralled by the displays of animals and humans, made to be lifelike but frozen into place behind glass. I still experience a powerful mix of sentimentality with a healthy dose of Ineffability when I revisit the Milwaukee Public Museum, a place I've wandered around many times over the years, each time worrying that I'll drain the magic of the childhood memories on this visit, but each time managing to still feel wrapped in an almost mystical euphoria and nostalgia.
Saunders tale is surreal and dark and playful and some of its main devices called this feeling up from the inner depths.
This is still the only Saunders I've read. I assumed his work would be so up my alley that I ordered three of his short story collections last year, had my weirdly uneven experience with this one and haven't exactly felt compelled to make the others a priority yet. I still have a sense that I'll like more of his work, but this experience was just such a strange disappointment in a way I can't really explain at all. At least I have a case to solve now, so I'll be back to Saundersville to snoop around for clues and answers later....more
Had I not just read two amazing books (one and two) and just started in on a third amazing book right before plowing through this slim bizarro treatisHad I not just read two amazing books (one and two) and just started in on a third amazing book right before plowing through this slim bizarro treatise I might've given it another star. Let's call it three-point-seven.
There was nothing wrong with it really, just not what I was looking for today I guess. I don't know. My feigning-objectivity-machine is on the fritz. Same with my writing-creative/thoughtful-reviews machine.
This book was wacky fun but I started to tire of the wacky fun formula far too quickly for a book that clocks in under a hundred pages.
And because James Brown is mentioned in those pages I will pass these links along for those who know what's good for them:
Leonardo da Vinci famously anticipated the advent of helicopters, scuba gear, and automobiles, and had well-laid plans for primitive versions of theseLeonardo da Vinci famously anticipated the advent of helicopters, scuba gear, and automobiles, and had well-laid plans for primitive versions of these things.
The revolutionary astronomer, Johannes Kepler, similarly wrote of the invention of rocket ships traveling outside of the Earth and this was in the 1620's. This can be found in his novella The Dream, which is a work that is widely regarded by literary scholars and historians as the first example of writing that fits into the science fiction genre.
Following in this tradition of ingenuity and jaw-dropping foresight, E.M. Forster's The Machine Stops ranks along side as an amazingly prophetic story. Written in 1909 Forster anticipates the television, video conferencing and the internet and its attendant Age.
On top of this impressiveness it's also a pretty decent apocalyptic adventure story. Were this written today I'd consider its attitudes towards machinery to be naïvely Luddite and a wee bit much in the fear-mongering department, but given its historical contingencies I'm capable of seeing it in a more admirable light.
It's ultimately a nightmarish vision of a world more or less drained of human warmth and meaningfulness by the totalitarian clank and clatter of steel beams and inexorably greased engines. In a slightly reaching way it's like the inverse of The Road, if that makes any sense. The world is turned upside down by functioning machines rather than their collapse. In both scenarios humans become rather powerless. Ultimately, as the title suggests, the machine does stop and since it had gradually become so highly automated and systematically complex no one even knows how to repair it. And thus the fascistic steel world of instant gratification and decadence erodes into The Roadish terrority.
(It's a quick and entertaining read. Give it a shot. It can be read online here.)...more