Phil's Reviews > CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
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Jul 28, 11

bookshelves: 20th-century

I had read "Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz" in my short fiction seminar and it didn't really appeal to me, so I approached this collection not really expecting to care much for it. But these stories really surprised me by being both very enjoyable and critically fascinating.

Two elements most struck me about these stories. First, despite coming from an Anglo-American writer in Rochester, NY, these stories seem to fit well into magical realism, which is generally a Latin American aesthetic. Particularly the first story, which lends its title to the collection, shows a magical realistic approach in frank, direct, and unquestioning interaction with a family of ghosts from the Civil War era.

The other thing that was interesting is the theme of existential doubt and cyclical passivity. All of Saunders' narrators face crippling passivity when confronted with their own inability to act as strongly as they should, and encountering this problem only leads to more despair and more inactivity. But ineveitably the protagonist does act, usually in some kind of violent or destructive manner, which we as readers can forgive, if we're capable of identifying with a weak character who is very conscious of wanting to be strong, yet seems unable to act strongly at the crucial moments.
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