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CivilWarLand in Bad Decline

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4.22  ·  Rating details ·  17,102 ratings  ·  1,509 reviews
Since its publication in 1996, George Saunders’s debut collection has grown in esteem from a cherished cult classic to a masterpiece of the form, inspiring an entire generation of writers along the way. In six stories and a novella, Saunders hatches an unforgettable cast of characters, each struggling to survive in an increasingly haywire world. With a new introduction by ...more
Paperback, 198 pages
Published April 26th 2016 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published January 16th 1996)
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Average rating 4.22  · 
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Lyn
Nov 07, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Have you ever heard a politically incorrect joke and laughed, and then felt guilty, but then laughed again?

Have you ever driven by a car wreck and slowed down to see the emergency response vehicles, and the vehicle made to look like a damaged accordion?

Have you ever watched a reality TV show and saw folks fighting each other and tearing clothes and being separated by bouncers and realized you were hypnotized by the gross lowest common denominator humanity?

Have you read Civilwarland in Bad Declin
...more
s.penkevich
Feb 28, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to s.penkevich by: Paquita & Brian
What a degraded cosmos.

We live in a world where cruelty towards others is becoming more and more accepted – how easy we rationalize our self-righteous anger against someone who cut us off, brought us an undercooked meal, said something stupid, etc., and even seen as funny. Saunders, like the ghost of Christmas future, would like to show us where that is leading us. Civilwarland In Bad Decline, his first collection of stories, paints a grim portrait of a near-future filled with everything from
...more
Paquita Maria Sanchez
Man, this little guy...I can't fault it a single sentence. Every story in this tiny collection made me want to high-five the author with one hand and cradle my hanging head in the other. Maybe I was a bit hard on his later Pastoralia because I needed to warm up to Saunders, maybe my head was just in the right space this time around, or perhaps this really is the superior group of stories. Whatever magical trippydippy cosmos aligning parade of "f*ck yeah" was going on, I dug the expletive deleted ...more
Vit Babenco
Nov 19, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Using lavish grotesque and generously mocking political correctness and hypocrisy George Saunders thrashes everyday life to pitiful trash, reducing the States to the ridiculous dystopia of dark ages.
That night I sleep a troubled sleep beside a fetid stream. I dream of Limbo, a tiny room full of dull people eternally discussing their dental work while sipping lukewarm tea. I wake at first light and hike through miles of failing forest and around noon arrive in a village of paranoiacs standing wit
...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye
Welcome to the Occupation

The whole way through George Saunders' first collection of short stories, there are suggestions that the world is not as it should be.

Imagine a world like this, totally unlike our own:

The characters and narrators are (or are surrounded by) kooks and wackos. People have names like Shirleen and Melvin. Where there were once cornfields and flood plains, there are now parking stations and theme parks. Gangs invade civil war re-enactments. All dreams are defiled. All entertai
...more
Paul Bryant
I already knew & liked the title track so I skipped to the big novella "Bounty" and thought hello hello this is like a Motown follow-up where say "Reach Out I’ll be There" was followed up by "Standing in the Shadows of Love" which is like the same song tweaked a bit (but still great) or "I Can’t Help Myself" followed up by "It’s the Same Old Song" which really is, how daringly blatant they were. I thought this was a short story collection but it’s more like a rock opera, where the stories inhabi ...more
Jason
Nov 10, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Me at 18: I read Vonnegut; I read Tom Robbins; I read Mark Leyner; I read Douglas Adams. I had just left the nest in a small Oklahoma town. I knew hardship. I knew the void of culture that threatens to suck you in like a black hole. I knew the vapid anguish that takes center stage in Saunders' stories. Humor was therapy then, the absurd a close friend. We scoffed at the religious majority and their follies, poked fun at the consumerist drone of daily existence. Then came anger and resentment. Bu ...more
A.J. Howard
The past couple of months, two activities have dominated my leisure time: reading and watching NBA hoops. After reading CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, I was reminded of a hoops argument that I think should carry over to modern literature as well. The argument has to deal with the unceasing quest for the so-called next Michael Jordan.

Michael Jordan was the transcendent athlete, if not public figure, of my childhood. There are a generation of kids who still drink Gatorade, buy Nikes, and wear Hanes
...more
Darwin8u
Feb 16, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2013
Poor George Saunders must have had a real real bad theme park experience in his youth. This collection of stories makes the dystopia of Zombieland seem sedate. I love Saunders' take on American consumption and the way he is able to shove values and virtues of 20th century America into a funky future that makes all our virtues absurd and makes this anti-utopia seem closer than you might have previously imagined.
Peter Boyle
Mar 25, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
So this is where it all began for George Saunders. In the wonderful preface (which can be read in full here), he reveals that he wrote these stories over the course of seven years while working a monotonous office job. Once he had compiled the tedious technical reports at his desk, he spent every spare minute working on this collection, hiding it from his boss. (Sidenote: This sounds very familiar to me. I work in a similarly unstimulating role and tend to spend much of it daydreaming about book ...more
Mattia Ravasi
Jan 25, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Video-review: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8aiH7...
Featured in my Top 5 George Saunders Books: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Bc7g...

George Saunders' debut collection goes a bit over the top with its emotional charge at times, but remains an immensely rewarding, if upsetting, experience. Its stories are balanced and rewarding (although kinda same-y occasionally), the Bounty novella is less elegant but quite unforgettable, and overall he can do things in the span of a page that will make you
...more
Charlie Miller
Whacky reportage on squalid desperation. Some impressive literary gymnastics and unpredictable outcomes make this a lot fun. This juxtaposed with the fact that everyone is actually having a horrible time gives it that strange sense of pathos via entertainment, or as often the more classic serving of entertainment at the expense of the downtrodden, non-gratuitous of course. Perhaps somewhat akin to a Vonnegut novel in short form
Blair
Set in a near-future America which appears to have become one big dilapidated theme park, the bizarre stories (and novella) of CivilWarLand in Bad Decline are by turns funny, disturbing and moving. Saunders' characters are invariably weird, eccentric, even occasionally horrifying, yet they end up feeling more human than the majority of fictional characters. It's also satisfying to find I can now detect Saunders' influence in the work of so many other writers I admire - to name a few: Lindsay Hun ...more
Glenn Sumi
A tough book to rate. More like 3.5.

Blown away by Saunders's most recent book of stories, Tenth Of December, I was curious about his debut book of stories and a novella, published in 1996. There are similar themes: dystopias, social injustice, exploitation. And that unique narrative voice – satiric, colloquial, with a finely tuned ear to the banal cadences of the tech world and corporate-speak – is certainly there.

But perhaps because I liked the later book so much, these feel embryonic, brimming
...more
Tin
Apr 13, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
George Saunders is one of those wonderful discoveries I had last year. His Folio Prize winning Tenth of December blew me away and I knew I had to read more, if not all, of his works. I wanted to go down the line of his fiction books, with Civilwarland in Bad Decline being the earliest, published 17 years earlier than Tenth of December. The short stories from the former may not be as polished and potent as those of the later, but it still has everything I loved about Saunders' writing. It is ungu ...more
Jon
Nov 09, 2015 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
A collection of short stories and one novella, this was Saunders’ debut and I have decidedly mixed feelings about it. It has glowing reviews and the cover blurbs all proclaim that George Saunders is a brilliant satirist and this book marks “the debut of an exciting new voice in fiction” (I really need to start ignoring cover blurbs when making book-buying decisions). Comparisons are made to Kurt Vonnegut and Nathaniel West throughout the review excerpts, but I really didn’t feel the book lived u ...more
gwayle
Oct 31, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to gwayle by: The Millions blog
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 fami ...more
Jessica Sullivan
Mar 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: literary-fiction
George Saunders' debut short story collection places us in a series of strange dystopian settings. His characters navigate absurd realities, lamenting the unfair hand they've been dealt and hoping for something more. They do questionable (sometimes unforgivable) things, and then seek redemption in a world that may not offer it. What I love about Saunders is that he consistently takes us to the far reaches of despair and post-modern irony while reassuring us that earnestness is still possible.
Leo Robertson
Pornographic sadness. He gets better though :)
Nate
8/12/13 Further Thoughts:
If there's a good analog to Saunders I think it's Vonnegut. More than anything because of the imaginitive quality of their respective works than anything else. But also the strangeness that they force the readers to just accept as parameters of their world. I've detected a furtive sense of comparison, particularly on this site, to DFW (everyone of my reviews seems to come back to him. Crutch or brainwash on my part? Or was he as boldly important as the DFW cult says he i
...more
Mac
Feb 11, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
With George Saunders receiving so much positive press these days, I decided to try CivilWarLand in Bad Decline. Now having read the short story collection, I can understand the acclaim. The stories are imaginative, distinctive, unusual, full of bizarre characters inhabiting bizarre worlds. Those characters are more weird circus freaks than everyday neighbors, and those worlds are theme parks you've never visited before. Throughout it all, the tone is an odd mix of resignation, hostility, and off ...more
Kay
Jun 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is some of the saddest and most affecting fiction I've read in a little while. Saunders taps into something dark and introspective in this book by using bizarre settings and fantastical elements. He's obviously at the top tier of science fiction writers working today.

Though I see from the reviews "Offloading Mrs. Schwartz" is regarded as the deepest emotionally in this book (it's really good), I actually found myself returning to thinking about "The 400-pound CEO" and "Downtrodden Mary's F
...more
Lee
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"Possessing perfect knowledge I hover above him as he hacks me to bits. I see his rough childhood. I see his mother doing something horrid to him with a broomstick. I see the hate in his heart and the people he had yet to kill before pneumonia gets him at eighty-three. I see the dead kid's mom unable to sleep, pounding her fists against her face in grief at the moment I was burying her son's hand. I see the pain I've caused. I see the man I could have been, and the man I was, and then everything ...more
Josh
Aug 27, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Art that makes me feel like shit is valid art. There are a lot of reasons to feel like shit here too. Good thing Saunders is funny and writes with some hope of redemption, or else you might as well throw yourself off a bridge upon finishing just about any of these stories.
Great stuff here. Check the title track at least. But in my opinion not a one disappoints.
5
Nate D
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Given the title, the opening eponymous story conspicuously lacked any reference to slavery, its absurd theme park merely a place of nostalgic leisure for the rich. That's because Saunders was saving the brunt of his clear-eyed sardonic brutality for the closing novella, Bounty, which exits the theme park for a horrific picaresque of an America in which environmental contamination has created a new genetic serfdom, or worse. Much worse. There's a lot to unpack here throughout: each rapidly readab ...more
George
Jul 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018-read
Some funny moments. Some really odd stuff going on, and it was cool, but some what forgettable. Or I am wrong. I might be flawed.
Althea Ann
This month's post-apocalyptic book club selection...

A slim collection of seven short stories... well, six short stories and one longish story. Individually, every one of these stories was very good. However, in the end, I wound up deducting a star because, well, they're all kind of the same story.

Don't get me wrong, I'm aware that's kind of the point... but it got a bit repetitive.

Civilwarland in Bad Decline - A hapless worker is stuck in his job at a decrepit, near-bankrupt historical theme par
...more
Ned
Jan 14, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Science fiction does not normally tickle my fancy, but this time is relevant as just a few decades into the American future and I enjoyed the humorously dark short stories of theme parks and working-class pathos, but I truly loved the novella: My experience with short stories capped with a novella is a good one, where this first time author (in 1996) seems to be warming up and readying for a novel. The novella "Bounty" is my favorite, a kind of Pilgrim's Progress where the mutated minority (the ...more
Drew
This is the first Saunders I've read, and I have to say there are a lot of surface-level similarities with some Wallace stuff. The most obvious is that Saunders wants to communicate a really bleak message about late-stage capitalism, but he feels the need to make his prose consistently and manically funny so that people will bother to read it. I like a funny book as much as the next guy, but I do occasionally feel a little insulted by an author who seems to think I'll stop reading if the jokes d ...more
Mike Carey
Feb 24, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a very hard book to describe. I found it really compelling and hard to put down, but Saunders' view of the world is so desolate and harrowing that I came away emotionally sandblasted. I think that was part of the intended effect, and I don't mean it as a criticism.

The protagonists in Saunders' stories are mostly helpless and adrift in a world that's been trashed and pillaged by twenty-first century capitalism and then recreated by canny, cynical entrepreneurs as a heritage experience. Ci
...more
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Madison Mega-Mara...: This topic has been closed to new comments. CivilWarLand in Bad Decline 1 5 Feb 28, 2013 08:05AM  
What is there to discuss? This was an amazing, funny book! 2 60 Oct 23, 2012 04:27PM  

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George Saunders was born December 2, 1958 and raised on the south side of Chicago. In 1981 he received a B.S. in Geophysical Engineering from Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. He worked at Radian International, an environmental engineering firm in Rochester, NY as a technical writer and geophysical engineer from 1989 to 1996. He has also worked in Sumatra on an oil exploration geophysi ...more

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