Michael's Reviews > Pastoralia

Pastoralia by George Saunders
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's review
Jul 19, 12

bookshelves: short_stories, read-more-than-once, contemporary_fiction
Read in June, 2000

Wobbling back and forth between five stars and four. I generally prefer this collection to his first, Civilwarland in Bad Decline, though there are gems in that book that I've read a few times and love to distraction. ("The 400-pound CEO" is just freaking amazing.)

Similiarly, stories I love in this collection I've read more than once—"The Falls," the story that closes out the book, is a stunner, not the least of which because it ends on a hopeful note that redeems the grim characters who people these stories. They may fail at a thing, their hopes may be futile, but they go on trying and hoping anyway.

But perhaps because I read this right on the heels of Civilwarland in Bad Decline, I was feeling a bit overfamiliar with Saunders' pet schticks—the world-as-theme-park/the-theme-park-as-microcosmic-world, other bits that are fine in isolation (encountered in the pages of The New Yorker or whatever) but show up as a kind of Saunders clip-art when you read several hundred pages of his short stories back-to-back.

Which is not to say that the stories aren't great. They are all pretty terrific. But I'd dread a Saunders complete collected.
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Comments (showing 1-5 of 5) (5 new)

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Marian I also loved the "400-pound CEO" - probably my fave in that collection.

Michael Oh sure: it's the stand-out.

I think it's now been long enough that I can read IN PERSUASION NATION, though the title strikes me as Not As Clever As It Thinks It Is.


Marian Looking forward to the new collection TK in the winter, having seen at least one story in The New Yorker (which I liked a lot) where he's moved on to new terrain.

Hello from autumnal Berlin!

Michael Oh, do you mean the NYer story in which the kid brains the would-be kidnapper with, like, a geode? Because that story was brilliant. That it didn't appear in the year's best was criminal.

But yeah. His interests have grown, as is clear from the half-excellent Braindead Megaphone. Understand: I love the guy. But ... after a point you say, I get it.

Curious about your take on PASTORALIA. I adore the final story.

Your being in Berlin makes me want to revisit! Do you speak good German? Passable? Do you live in, like, old East Berlin? In the Orange District? Your life is so interesting, and we are all curious.

At any rate. Next time you're on the east coast, I will come meet you!

Marian The one I read was about a soldier returned home to his mom and messed-up family. Not quite brilliant but very, very good. Gotta check out those I missed during subscription lapse online!

Lost my copy of Pastoralia during the moves, alas, but as you point out, reading it on the heels of CWL is not necessarily the way to go! A pause is in order.

I'm afraid I can't claim passable German. Hope to be decent at some point! We do live in the old East, in Prenzlauer Berg, ten or fifteen minutes' walk up from Alexanderplatz, in a scruffy corner of this largely gentrified and well-heeled nabe. It is a fantastic city! Btw, do you remember sitting my cats in SD? One of them is still around! Do you still have Raoul?

I may be Stateside in October; failing that, November for sure. Will let you know!

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