g's Reviews > CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

CivilWarLand in Bad Decline by George Saunders
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Oct 31, 2009

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Recommended to g by: The Millions blog
Read in November, 2009

This is a hard one to rate. I found three of the stories--"CivilWarLand in Bad Decline," "Isabelle," and "The 400-Pound CEO"--absolutely revelatory: trust me, you have never read anything like these stories before. At the risk of adjective overload, they are clever, unsettling, unexpected, and deeply moving--easily five star material. They are dark and apocalyptic but hysterical and heartwarming: the world's gone terribly, terribly wrong, but the narrators are sympathetic, likable guys with familiar weaknesses and desires, trying their best to get by in a society that is deteriorating in horrifying ways, where bureaucracy is ridiculously out of control and sadism and selfishness abound unchecked. Each protagonist somehow challenges the status quo, usually with devastating results, but you love them for it. They aren't really heroic, but their good intentions, blundering innocence, and unadorned decency are shining beacons of hope amid the moral wreckage that surrounds them.

The remaining stories follow the same pattern but failed to move me; they range from good/OK to tedious. The bizarre circumstances and setting are given the spotlight, and though definitely original, I tire easily of indulgent flights of fancy and gimmicky castles in the sand.

It was worth the read for those three stories, though.
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